March 16, 2000 03:58pm
Gays To Protest St. Patrick's Parade
by: Verena Dobnik
(NEW YORK, NY) -- Irish gays and lesbians predicted thousands would join them in a civil disobedience march down Fifth Avenue before the official St. Patrick's Day parade.
This year marks the 10th time that the New York-based Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization has been banned from making the march up Fifth Avenue under its own banner.
The group planned the protest march - in the opposite direction of the parade - for about an hour before the official parade starts Friday morning. Members said they expected thousands to join the march.
As has become traditional, some will then turn around and try to join the actual parade. Those who fail to heed police warnings face arrest.
``I'm lesbian, queer, Irish,'' said Ailbhe Smyth, head of women's studies at University College in Dublin. ``But I have to say that in Ireland, we no longer have this kind of intolerance, this kind of homophobia, this kind of discrimination.''
She and 52 other Irish gays and lesbians were welcomed by Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields on the eve of America's oldest and biggest St. Patrick's Day parade.
The 239th annual march will feature shamrocks and ``Kiss me, I'm Irish'' buttons. Many of the protesters are expected to wear ``Kiss me, I'm queer'' buttons - as they did Thursday at the reception with Fields.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians, a fraternal Catholic group that runs the official parade, has repeatedly maintained its right to exclude ILGO. And in February, a Manhattan federal jury ruled that the city had not violated the group's First Amendment rights by denying it a marching permit.
As usual, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani will be toward the front of the parade.
This year, he'll have a new political opponent following him. U.S. Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton will walk up Fifth on St. Patrick's for her first time - against ILGO's wishes.
One major figure may be missing this year: 80-year-old Cardinal John O'Connor, whose health has been failing since he underwent brain surgery in September. Church officials said he probably will not greet marchers as he usually does.