Out-take from upstart, June 1998
The last upstart did not have space to mention the “Queer Action” in Belfast, in solidarity with the ILGO (Irish Lesbian and Gay Organisation) of New York. ILGO has been refused permission by the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America (AOHA) to walk in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. The ILGO slogan was: Year Eight – end the Hate! Yes, this has been dragging on for all of the 1990s. (Parallel to Belfast Pride — something ILGO could use in its publicity). The Queer Action was comparatively large, and noisy, it drew plenty of attention. People stopped and had the situation explained to them.
To that extent, it was a very useful exercise, but there were a number of things wrong with it; and (in the interests of our friends in New York, who are engaged in a genuine struggle for civil rights), it would be cowardly not to deal with them head-on. NIGRA (the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association), which has organised solidarity actions for six years now, issued a statement which was published (in amended form) by GCN (Gay Community News, Dublin), prior to any actions. Part of the burden of this, was that NIGRA had picketed the US Consulate-General a number of times, and the staff, (while sympathetic to the aims of the picket) had pointed-out that the dispute was between ILGO, the AOHA, and to an extent, the New York City authorities.
This is the reason why NIGRA, in Dublin, picketed the Aer Lingus office on O’Connell Street. Aer Lingus, Bord Fáile, and Guinness are among the biggest ‘corporate sponsors’ of the Parade.
The Queer Action in Belfast was held outside the Consulate. No harm in that. It is a big, noticeable, public building (with ‘Old Glory’ flying outside of it — it must be the biggest flag in Belfast). But the banners bore the following legend:
There are practical objections to this slogan. The first one is that most people would not know what AOH stands for. They might recognise the term Hibs. Even then, they might assume it was a Scottish football team. The AOH has experienced a great fall in Ireland, including Ulster.
(Without boring the arse off readers, the Hibs in Ireland, the Board of Erin, were different from the American organisation; which was connected to the AOH in Scotland, but had only a small following in Ireland. One of the reasons why this ban is disgraceful if that the AOHA has genuine radical traditions: the ‘Mollie Maguires’ and all that.)
Most people would not know what NYPD meant, even insomniac fans of NYPD Blue. We may be fascinated by Americana, but meeting it in Queen Street in the middle of the afternoon, is disconcerting (again, it may not be a bad thing, it pulls people up, and makes them think.)
NIGRA could have noted that Rudi Giuliani’s web-site lists one of his achievements, as Mayor of New York, (as well as – allegedly – cleaning up crime) as keeping ILGO off the streets! (There’s an awful lot of votes in red-neck Irish America, all those ‘Reagan-Democrats’ – virtual ‘Dixiecrats’ – in the New York Police Department).
The inclusion of RUC in the slogan is surreal. What point is being made here? An obvious one is that he RUC is directly involved in the oppression of the ILGO. Or possibly that the RUC goes over to New York to get at Irish queers as a sort of hobby.
It is politically unwise to use slogans which are not to the point in a particular situation.
The RUC are not implicated in the situation in New York. The fight for civil rights for Irish queers to walk in (what everyone knows is a Parade open to every other citizen of New York — to all the world. The Parade was host to militants of the Indian National Congress in the 1920s), is not served by dragging in extraneous matters. This is especially so as the RUC have, apart from the bruising encounters outside Gardners bookshop in 1977, been well-behaved even sympathetic, at Gay events in Belfast.
Despite that, it may well be that we will have to have to picket the Chief Constable, other senior officers, or particular RUC stations, because of their refusal to take a reasonable attitude to the treatment of [homo]sexual offenders. And the biased classification of sex crimes, which emphasises the behaviour of gay men, but disguises sexual, violence against women and children.
Something else which should be discussed is the state of mind of some on the Queer Action. One participant said he was getting rid of a “lot of anger”. That should happen at an encounter session, or a therapist’s chambers. It definitely is not the state of mind that one should have on a picket. What would a person in such a state of mind have done of the police had got heavy?
We are, or should be, in the business of getting he ILGO onto the St Patrick’s Day Parade in New York, sooner rather than later. That will not come about as a result of self-indulgent posing about the RUC, or any other group, especially if they are not involved in the case.
Belfast, and this region, is important in the campaign against the AOHA, because they have signed-up to a large number of ‘civil rights’ campaigns over the last quarter century. This is partly the result of guilt: they threw people trying to unfurl a NI Civil Rights Association banner off their march in 1969. And we mean threw. (If someone tried to unfurl a NI Gay Rights Association banner…?)
There are other ‘ethnic’ marches in New York, and other US cities — ILGO’s fight (like NIGRA’s in Europe), as a ‘test case’. If ILGO do not succeed, all may return to the status quo ante. It might also be seen as a signal to unpeel the queers from the African-, Italian-, Greek-, You-name-it-American parades, and corral us into our ghetto — which can then be ignored.
1999’s actions will have to be effective — we should start thinking about them now, rather than a week or two before St Pat’s Day.