Should NYC Ban Firefighters and Police Officers From Marching In Uniform at St. Patrick’s Day Parade?

February 5th, 2014

As I sit in the newly-spawned DeBlasio’s New York, I read that the recently-elected Mayor has decided not to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day parade due to their position on gay and lesbian groups. The Times reports:

Mr. de Blasio will be the first New York mayor in 20 years not to take part in the event, a world-famous procession down Fifth Avenue, which is a highlight of the calendar for many Irish-American groups but also a deeply fraught event for politicians wary of its prohibition on public expressions of gay pride.

“I simply disagree with the organizers of that parade in their exclusion of some individuals in this city,” he said in a news conference at City Hall.

The mayor said he planned to participate in several other events on St. Patrick’s Day, which is March 17, “to honor the Irish heritage of this city and the contributions of Irish-Americans.”

Mr. de Blasio, who previously served on the City Council and as public advocate, said he had never marched in the parade as an elected official.

That’s fine. He is well within his discretion to voice his disapproval of the parade’s policies. But more interesting is the suggestion of some in government that city employees not be able to march in uniform:

A coalition of liberal activists and city officials — including the public advocate, Letitia James — this week urged Mr. de Blasio to restrict public workers, such as firefighters and police officers, from marching in the parade while wearing formal city uniforms.

An open letter to the Mayor signed by numerous groups, and city officials, makes this point explicitly:

The organizers of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade have established a constitutional right to their exclusionary religious procession, but the participation of police and firefighters is a clear violation of the City’s Human Rights Law, appended below.

The presence of uniformed police and firefighters in such a procession sends a clear signal to LGBTQ New Yorkers that these personnel, who are charged with serving and protecting all New Yorkers, do not respect the lives or safety of LGBT people. It confirms the practice of the NYPD and FDNY at times of targeting certain communities for discrimination. What’s more, it betrays the current work of high level government agencies and human rights advocates working internationally against the current wave of extreme anti-LGBTQ legislation and discriminatory practices occurring in countries such as Nigeria, Uganda, and Russia.

We are asking you to direct all City departments not to organize marchers for or allow personnel to participate in this anti-LGBTQ procession either in uniform or with any banner that identifies them with the City.

The Mayor (for now at least) has rejected these requests.

The mayor firmly dismissed that idea on Tuesday. “Uniformed city workers have a right to participate if they choose to, and I respect that right,” he said.

This would present an interesting issue of free speech for government employees. But,more particularly speak to a rising sentiment that any group that has sentiments concerning gay marriage, or even gay pride, must be bigoted. That is, there are no legitimate or rational reasons for a group–even one affiliated with religion in a private parade–to not openly accommodate all groups. Keep an eye on this issue.

The outcome of the Elaine photography case is about much more than same-sex marriage.