A year after being booted out of Cincinnati’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade over its pro-gay platform, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has been banned again this year — along with all politicians.
Last year’s controversy resulted in City Council passing an ordinance forcing organizers of the four Cincinnati parades that receive city subsidies — Juneteenth, Black Family Reunion, Findlay Market Opening Day and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade — to sign an agreement not to discriminate against any group or person seeking to participate. But the ordinance became moot once subsidies supplying about 90 percent of parade costs were cut from this year’s budget. (Each parade was receiving up to $10,000 in services.)
Chris Schulte, chairman of the parade’s committee, says GLSEN is out because it broke a rule in 2012 — the organization’s sole year for participation — and is never welcome back.
Schulte says people marching for GLSEN were soliciting — or advertising the group — during the parade, which is prohibited.
GLSEN co-chair Josh Wagoner has a different opinion on why the group was banished.
Wagoner says Schulte told him the committee had a problem with the group’s gay and lesbian theme atop its anti-bullying platform. GLSEN works within K-12 schools to prevent bullying by striving for equality regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
“They didn’t feel that’s what they wanted at their Catholic-oriented event,” Wagoner says. “They had really planned pretty well that they would not let us know until the last second, so we would have no way to get them to change that decision.”
When asked about the conversation Wagoner described, Schulte said, “I’m not going to comment any further than the reason from last year.”
Upon review of GLSEN’s parade photographs, Wagoner found images of marchers holding banners with GLSEN’s logo and its “Safe Schools for All” slogan, which Wagoner assumes is Schulte’s accusation of solicitation. (Schulte declined to elaborate on the alleged offense, telling CityBeat, “For me, I’m ready to move on passed this, there’s nothing more. I’m not going to get into how our committee works.”) Wagoner, however, doesn’t consider the sign much different than politicians or other groups identifying who they were.
The move came as a surprise for Wagoner, whose group had been identified and appreciated by the reviewing stand in the 2012 parade.
“I think what kind of happened after the 2012 parade is some people who are part of the parade organizing committee didn’t like that we had been there, so there must have been conversation inside the parade team, because at one point a couple of their volunteers met with our parade coordinator,” Wagoner says.
The volunteers had tried working with the coordinator to get GLSEN to change the name on its banner in order to march in the 2013 parade, Wagoner says.
“It was an unfair standard to say we couldn’t have our name out there,” Wagoner says.
“There was nothing we did or ever wanted to do that was against the parade orders.”
A day after Wagoner received word his group was banned, Councilman Chris Seelbach began lobbying against the parade committee’s decision. Several other council members backed out of the parade in response, as did other groups like the local plumbers, pipefitters and mechanical equipment union.
“To have a parade in the city of Cincinnati which is openly discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation, I think, goes against the value system of most Cincinnati people and most people who live in this country,” says Seelbach, who became Cincinnati’s first openly gay elected official when he won his council seat in 2011.
The White House recognized Seelbach with the Harvey Milk Champion of Change Award after GLSEN’s nomination, partly for his effort in enacting the non-discriminatory parade ordinance.
Cincinnati’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade started in 1967 when a small group of members from the Greater Cincinnati Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish Catholic Fraternal Organization, attained a permit for March 17 and then marched the streets. The parade was formalized the following year and moved to a weekend day.
Two-thousand people are expected in the March 15 parade this year, a majority Irish families and high school marching bands, Schulte says. Those two groups have an increased presence this year.
In contrast, politicians and certain other groups have not been invited to participate in this year’s parade. Schulte reaffirmed the exclusion of politicians by explaining they weren’t allowed in the parade during its earlier years. He declined to identify any other group that would not be invited back, saying he wanted to have “privacy kept.”
Schulte says the main reason the parade is excluding other groups besides GLSEN is the 2013 shortening of the parade route, which caused logistical problems. The parade starts at Eggleston Avenue and Reedy Street winding to Sentinel Street, as opposed to past routes, which started at Third Street near The Banks then milled up Main Street to Fifth Street and ended back at Third, Schulte says.
“We had to shrink the parade,” Schulte says. “We don’t have the room. We just had to eliminate those slots. It was just a decision we made in the group.”
Cincinnati’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade is not the only Irish celebration demonstrating a divide between Irish groups and gay rights groups. In Boston, gay advocacy groups are fighting for the right to be able to wear T-shirts and carry signs identifying themselves as gay in their own St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The parade sponsor, South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, had agreed to allow gay veterans to march with a gay rights banner but not to wear the T-shirts.
Schulte insists that GLSEN’s ban from the parade was based on rules violations, but the same year it was banned, the Greater Cincinnati Ancient Order of Hibernians was given permission to sell “chances” to spectators. A March 2013 newsletter for the group said Schulte’s permission to fundraise “has the potential to be an even bigger event for us than Beer Fest was.” Schulte is a member of the Hibernians.
Following GLSEN’s 2013 ban, a group of Hibernians met at Crowley’s Highland House in Mount Adams, and Kevin Crowley, who is part-owner of the pub and son of late-Cincinnati politician David Crowley, attempted to mediate the situation.
“It seems silly to me that this is going on, and it seems like an easy thing to fix,” Crowley says. “As a brother of a gay sister and gay brother, as an Irishman, I’m just flabbergasted. Our people have a long history of being held back because of who we are, and to do it in this day and age is just mindboggling.”
David Crowley fought to keep funding for the parade and championed an effort to repeal Article 12, which prevented Cincinnati from adopting any ordinance that treated gays and lesbians as a protected class. The law was repealed in 2004.
Kevin Crowley says he doesn’t plan to march in this year’s parade. Teens in a youth group conducted by GLSEN plan to demonstrate along the parade route.
“We march in parades and we do tables at events just to let people know that we have a service around working for safe schools and we’re always happy and excited to be at these events and celebrate with different parts of the community,” Wagoner says. “That is all we wanted to do at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and it’s what we did the first year.
“We had no reason to feel uncomfortable
that year and we had no reason to feel that we weren’t on the same
footing as the other groups. We never wanted this to be a downer; we
wanted this to be fun and get the word out just like everyone else.” ©