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In a city of immigrants, being banned from your own people's parade because you're gay means being deprived of half your soul. Related Gully Coverage

A Queerly Mellow St. Paddy's Day
Instead of arrests for ILGO, a "quiet demonstration."

St. Paddy's Day Gone to the Snakes
Interview with Irish lesbian activist Anne Maguire.

Sold Down the River—Again
Why the Black Caucus walked out of the joint session of Congress.

Bagpipers from the Emerald Society of the New York City Fire Department during the 240th Annual St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York, Saturday, March 17, 2001. Beth A. Keiser

New York

Labor's Queer Irish Troubles

by Ana Simo

MARCH 20, 2001. When Edward Malloy, stately in morning coat, tricolor sash, and top hat, marched up Fifth Avenue on Saturday at the head of the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, he was fulfilling, he said, "every Irishman's dream." He was also letting out one of New York City's dirty, little political secrets: the local labor leadership's utter contempt for the city's lesbian and gay community.

No Irish Queers Need Apply
ILGOThe St. Patrick's Day Parade, the biggest and most public annual political networking event in town, bans lesbians and gays from openly marching in it. In a city of immigrants, being banned from your own people's parade because you're gay means being stripped of your nationality, cast out of your family, deprived of half your soul. It is a particularly cruel form of hatred. In the case of the St. Patrick's Day Parade, it has practical consequences, as well: you're excluded from the network of very tangible, worldly, political and economic influence that the parade represents and celebrates. You're disinherited materially, as well as spiritually.

For the past eleven years, the gay community has rallied behind the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (ILGO) in its battle against the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the parade organizers, whose main political patron is the powerful New York City Catholic Archdiocese. Hundreds of queers have been arrested in annual civil disobedience actions, lawsuits have been filed, and fear of losing the gay vote has forced top Democratic politicians to shun the parade for years.

Ed Malloy, though, a powerful New York labor leader, leapt at the chance to be a central participant when the secretive Parade Committee dedicated this year's event to "honoring the labor movement" and picked him as grand marshal. "It will be the best parade ever. Every hard hat in New York will be cheering," Malloy said in his acceptance speech last December 11th. Malloy is a state AFL-CIO vice president, and he sits on the Executive Board of the New York City Central Labor Council, an AFL-CIO umbrella representing nearly 500 groups and 1.5 million workers in New York City.

More importantly, he controls the 200,000-member Building and Construction Trades Councils of Greater New York and New York State. Nothing of any consequence stirs in the city's 7.8-billion construction industry without Ed Malloy. "Union Big To Lead St. Pat Parade," is how The New York Post trumpeted Malloy's public induction as grand marshal of the St. Patrick's Day Parade last December. Both New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and New York's junior Senator, Hillary Clinton, avidly sought Malloy's endorsement, and got it. A mini-biopic of Malloy shown during the local NBC affiliate's four-hour parade coverage this past Saturday featured Giuliani and mega-developer Donald Trump carefully lauding the labor leader.

Malloy embodies the powerful twins of the Irish community and labor, a connection Parade Committee Chairman John Dunleavy was quick to draw. Introducing Malloy and the labor theme of the parade to the media on December 11th, Dunleavy said that the labor movement in this country "has been synonymous with the Irish community." Malloy had been picked as grand marshal because he represented "that particular theme." The themes, however, could as easily have been power, money, religion, and the Irish.

The Circles of Irish Power
The December induction was held at the plush Park Avenue headquarters of the Mutual of America, whose chairman, William J. Flynn, is Honorary Chairman-Director of the Parade Committee. The giant life insurance company, which specializes in providing pension and insurance plans to non-profit organizations, counts among its clients big labor groups like the 2.6 million-member National Education Association.

The live, four-hour parade coverage on the local NBC affiliate this past Saturday was co-sponsored by Mutual of America, whose commercials praising the Irish and labor were every bit as gauzy-eyed as those from the Amalgamated Bank ("America's labor bank. The bank for unions and their members"), only more frequent.

Amalgamated Bank Trustee and Executive Vice-President John J. O'Connor is a Parade Committee Director. Like the Hibernians, their parent body, the Parade Committee works hand in hand with the New York City Archdiocese, which in turn has been very supportive of the New York City Central Labor Council. Labor Council President Brian McLaughlin, who worked closely with the late Cardinal O'Connor in labor and immigrant issues, hand-picked Malloy to be grand marshal of the Labor Day Parade 2000 last September. Malloy has his own close ties to the church, and is helping to build a Catholic Museum.

airline protestConsidering the overlapping circles of power and social networking, the "honoring labor theme" was inevitable. The only question is whether it originated with the Parade Committee, or, conversely, with labor itself, or a friend of labor's at the Archdiocese. At any rate, it was a potential P.R. bonanza for a Bush-beleaguered labor (being plugged, gratis, for four hours on TV, reaching an estimated 2.5 million, and burnishing its white, suburban working-class nostalgia credentials). And someone, somewhere, figured labor's "progressive" aura was enough to shield them from a couple hours of exclusiveness and a few angry queers who had probably overstayed their time in the limelight.

They must have been relieved when, in general, the announcement of the betrothal of labor and Hibernians was covered with no mention of excluded queers by the rest of the local media, including the New York Times, The Daily News, and the ethnic Irish papers.

Brian McLaughlinJust in case, the city's labor leadership maintained a studious silence. By keeping their mouths shut, if anyone in the queer community did blow the whistle on them, they could distance themselves and blame the whole Megillah on old Malloy. That way, the labor leadership could have their cake and eat it too (which, for the Central Labor Council and its President, Brian McLaughlin, who is also a Democratic State Assembly member from Queens, would mean keeping their famously "progressive" reputation intact). Unsurprisingly, repeated phone calls last week to Central Labor Council Secretary Ted Jacobsen, and to Malloy himself, went unanswered.

Silence Of The Lambs
As it turned out, the labor leadership had nothing to worry about. In New York City, labor and the gay community apparently inhabit parallel universes. In the three months following the December announcement, no one in the activist queer community, or anywhere else, blew the whistle on the grotesque idea of a labor-themed discriminatory parade led by a top union leader. The mainstream media, from the Post to the Times, saw or heard nothing, or chose not to. And not a peep was heard from the queer media (including this publication), the otherwise loquacious queer politicians, or, more importantly, ILGO.

When asked on Sunday, March 11th why ILGO had remained publicly silent for three months about the parade's labor connection, spokeswoman Áine Duggan sent the reporter to an organizer of Pride At Work (PAW), an AFL-CIO "constituency group" of gay union members. "They're the ones handling the contacts with the labor movement," she said, while ILGO "has concentrated on bringing our message to Ireland, and to Hillary Clinton and others in New York City." ILGO had not tried to contact Malloy or any other labor group, she said when asked.

Later that day, PAW's Dian Killian, rather than explain the lack of public challenge to the labor leadership, preferred to offer a lengthy enumeration of the AFL-CIO's pro-gay positions. "I want to make sure you realize that labor is very strong on gay rights," she said. She finally did admit that "there were tactical reasons to handle things this way," alluding to PAW's attempt, as ostensible insiders, to contact the labor leadership in private, while maintaining, along with ILGO, public silence on labor's participation in the parade. ILGO and PAW, she said, "have been collaborating closely on the issue for several months."

"Like in any large organization," she said, "there's a range of views in the labor movement—some are progressive, others are more conservative." She then added: "Organizations have many different issues and problems they have to deal with."

Insider Trading
PAW did write a letter to Malloy in January expressing their concerns regarding his participation in the parade. Malloy never answered. And PAW didn't follow up on it "because we didn't think we would make Malloy change his mind," Killian said.

JacobsonAnother PAW letter, this time to Central Labor Council President Brian McLaughlin, got Killian and PAW founding member, Jack Rojas, a one hour meeting with Labor Council Secretary Ted Jacobsen on Tuesday March 6th, which Killian described as "very positive."

"The meeting was instigated by the parade issue, but we discussed a number of other concerns we had. And we got a reaffirmation of the Central Council's support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights," she said. "We used Ed Malloy's subject to engage labor in a dialogue about lgbt issues. The Hibernians have created an opening for Pride At Work to further our issues with the Central Labor Council."

When asked what PAW had gotten out of the meeting regarding what was now being called "the parade issue," Killian said, "I understand that someone from the Central Labor Council later spoke to Mr. Malloy about this issue and told him there was concern about this."

She added, "We told him [Ted Jacobsen] that unfortunately, Mr. Malloy didn't say publicly that by participating in the parade he was not condoning the Hibernians' discriminatory policies." Had she and Rojas asked the Central Labor Council to lean on Malloy so that he would make such a public declaration and had the Council done it? "You'll have to ask Ted Jacobsen that," Killian said.

Pep Talk
Less than 48 hours before the parade kick off, on Thursday, March 15th, ILGO held what was more pep rally than "press conference" at the New York Lesbian and Gay Community Center. The only media in attendance appeared to be The Gully and, perhaps, a lone video cameraman. The rest of the dozen or so people in the room seemed to be an in-house audience of ILGO and PAW activists and supporters.

Duggan, Killian, State Senator Tom Duane, and Rojas, among others, made the usual statements denouncing the parade's discriminatory policies. All, except Duane, mentioned the labor troubles, but only in the most general manner—no names named, no one held accountable for anything.

EganILGO'S Duggan wondered, "How can a parade that excludes one group of people honor the labor movement, which struggles against discrimination?" Killian said that "labor is not honored by homophobia, racism and discrimination," then went on to plug the unions and all the AFL-CIO pro-gay resolutions of the past 20 years.

The PAW flyer calling union members "to join the labor protest against the parade in solidarity with ILGO" gave no hint that labor would be on that day on opposite sides of the barricades—with queer unionists penned on the sidewalk, banned from marching openly, and their straight brethren proudly following the unnamed Malloy up the avenue.

An ILGO press release distributed at the press conference did mention the parade's labor theme, but also airbrushed out Malloy's participation and labor's collusion with the Hibernians.

With Friends Like These...
PAW leader Jack Rojas was the only speaker who attempted to tackle the issue candidly. "We're proud that the St. Patrick's Day Parade is honoring labor this year, but we're also angry..." he said. "This puts a big wedge in labor's efforts to create a wide coalition. It makes PAW's work within the glbt community very difficult. How can we tell our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters that labor is on their side, if labor participates in a discriminatory parade such as this?"

Noting that "labor is broadly participating in this event that discriminates against gays and lesbians," he asked rhetorically, "Would labor be marching on a parade that excluded immigrants, women, African-Americans? I know the answer and it pains me." He added, "The organizers of this parade, and the labor movement that participates in it, shouldn't delude themselves. We, gays, are not expendable any more."

But, when asked if he anticipated any statement from Ed Malloy about the parade's homophobic policies, Rojas toed the party line, "We've been in conversation with the Labor Council about this issue, and other issues. You have to understand there are bigger issues involved." He then launched into a PAW laundry list of worthy gay union issues, from health benefits for domestic partners to "taking lgbt issues off the back burner." After all, as Killian said, "This [the parade] has been an unfortunate opportunity to further our dialogue with the labor leadership."

And did the New York City Central Labor Council leadership know beforehand that the St. Patrick's Day Parade was going to honor labor and that Malloy was to be the grand marshal? "Well, they [the Central Labor Council leadership] see it as acceptable, they think it's not such a big deal," Rojas said.

"We don't know this for sure," Killian snapped; then, turning to the reporter, she said, "You'll have to ask them yourself."

Go To Parade Protest Coverage

Related links:

For the New York City Central Labor Council.

For the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization.

For Pride At Work.

For the Ancient Order of Hibernians, New York State.

For Complete Coverage Gay Mundo

For Complete Coverage New York City

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