St. Patrick's Day parades have been wrought with controversy in two of the nation's largest cities this year. This discord stems from the banning of displays of LGBT pride in both the New York and Boston parades. While the usual displays of Irish dancers and bagpipes were present, noticeably absent were the mayors of both cities.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was the first mayor to sit out of that city's parade in many years, and Irish-American Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston opted out of his city's parade because of the exclusion of the gay community. Guinness USA has pulled out as a sponsor of New York's parade and Samuel Adams beer will no longer sponsor the parade in Boston.
Headlines across the country are portraying this as a clash of traditional values and gay-rights politics. Members of the LGBT community, especially those of Irish heritage, are demanding their right to be included in these events. On the other side are those with traditional values and heritage societies with religious influence that do not want the open display of gay pride disrupting a family-friendly event.
Here in San Francisco, our St. Patrick's Day parade, which has marched along Market Street to City Hall for the past 163 years, has welcomed the LGBT community for many decades. This is not because we bow to political pressure, but because we are doing what is right and what is fair. The United Irish Societies of San Francisco includes some of the same heritage societies as in Boston and New York.
Those who organize the parades in the east should look west to see the outcome of allowing LGBT people to participate in the parade.
Do we have hedonistic displays of half-dressed men or some version of the Folsom Street Fair with a shade of the color green? We have the same family-friendly affair that the heads of the New York and Boston parades are fighting for. We have dancers, bagpipers, sporting groups and musicians.
What we also have is our city's mayor. Mayor Ed Lee proudly rides in a vintage car followed by openly gay politicians state Sen. Mark Leno and Supervisor Scott Wiener. The LGBT community is not a threat to our family-friendly event. The only disruptions are party revelers, not associated with our community, wearing green shirts with offensive slogans and drinking too much green beer.
The sooner these cities join us in including all members of their communities, the sooner they can get back to honoring the spirit of St. Patrick himself.
Kevin Birmingham is a board member of the United Irish Societies of San Francisco.