Each year for the past few decades, there have been disputes over whether LGBT marchers can participate in annual St. Patrick’s Day parades, disputes reflecting the larger conflict over whether one can be at once LGBT, Irish, and Catholic. Brendan Fay, a gay Catholic man who has spearheaded efforts for inclusion at New York City’s parade, recently spoke to The Irish Times about the parades, the church, and being an advocate for equality.
It was only in 2016 that Fay’s Lavender and Green Alliance was allowed to march in the parade down Fifth Avenue. Organizers were facing massive pressure from politicians and corporate sponsors.
According to Fay, finally marching after more than two decades of advocacy was “for many of us, a day we will never forget for the rest of our lives.” Fay said it was especially meaningful for LGBT Irish immigrants, ending “years of awful, painful exclusion” and allowing them to participate authentically in these celebrations of their culture.
The larger struggle for acceptance in New York City’s Irish community has likewise been challenging. Fay described the put downs from LGBT-negative people:
“There’s not too many people know what its like to be barred; to be told you do not belong, you’re not part of us. . .We’ve all this sort of lip service to the Irish hospitality and welcome, but certainly not if you’re lesbian or gay and in New York and seeking a welcome in your own community. . .
“Sometimes they were very blunt: ‘If you’re gay, you can’t be Irish.’ There was a lot of stupidity. People said things like, ‘It’s not natural. It’s against the faith.'”
Fay’s advocacy around the St. Patrick’s Day parade began in 1991 when the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization was allowed to march, albeit without any signage, but was then barred every year since. Because he marched that year, Fay was fired from the Catholic school where he taught. Beyond the parade, he commented about the Catholic Church generally:
“In churches where people are welcome to bring their cats and dogs for a blessing, we do not exist. If we are acknowledged at all, it’s as being intrinsically disordered. . .Of course, that’s not everywhere. There are courageous voices, and people working for change within the churches and synagogues, and religious communities as well.”
In the 1980s, while teaching at another Catholic school, Fay participated in Dignity/New York, which was then hosted at a Catholic parish:
“It was an extraordinary space. It was filled with hope. They helped me to come out as well. To see people carrying rainbow flags, praying at Mass, singing, caring for one another. All of that changed in October 1986 with a letter from the Vatican, signed by Cardinal Ratzinger, where we were defined as being intrinsically disordered. Then the Diocese of New York and other dioceses ordered the expulsion of these groups from Catholic parishes. They were awful moments.”
Finally, Fay spoke more broadly about the importance of activism and its positive relationship to faith. He traced his own journey in seeking equality to early participation in struggles against apartheid in South Africa and the repression in El Salvador, movements which involved many religious people. He said further:
“I kind of grew up with this sort of activism as a key dimension of faith. It’s very important. Activism for social justice, for equality, for raising your voice against prejudice is an essential dimension of the way you live your faith. But then I got out there, and I saw people living their faith in a whole other sort of way. It was shocking, but I never lost that spirit of lighting that candle in the dark, and being committed to making the world a better place.”
As we celebrate Irish heritage today, it’s worth remembering that St. Patrick was himself a person on the peripheries. He was a foreigner in Ireland, and when he tried to return home after escaping captivity, tradition says the local people at first drove him away. As an immigrant, he had neither legal protection nor safety, and faced violence during his missionary work. But chosen by God from the peripheries, Patrick was a tremendously successful evangelist. LGBT people and their families, also on the peripheries, often do likewise, building up our church with their faith and perseverance. With Brendan Fay’s testimony in mind, let us toast to the truth and blessing that one can easily be LGBT or an ally, Irish, and/or Catholic all at the same time.
(Tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will continue our St. Patrick’s Day LGBT coverage with news about the Boston parade. For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of past controversies around St. Patrick’s Day parades, please click here.)
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 17, 2017
New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers: Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader: Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.