RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
There is a whole lot of shamrock green on full display this weekend, as cities around the country hold their annual St. Patrick's Day parades. But several high profile regulars have decided to sit out the events because of a ban on gays marching openly as a group in the parades. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is one of those boycotting his city's events, which will be held tomorrow.
For more, we turn to Peter Quinn. He's a former speechwriter for New York Governors Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo. He's now a novelist who writes books about Irish America. He joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Quinn.
PETER QUINN: Thanks, Rachel, for having me.
MARTIN: So, first off, can you just tell us a little bit about what the New York in Manhattan parade is like and what it means to march in it?
QUINN: It's a pretty astounding event. I think people who come from outside of the city or from Ireland are kind of incredulous of the sheer size of the. It, you know, stretches for blocks. It's 200,000 people march, maybe a million watch it. So it's pretty spectacular event as far as parades go - ethnic parades. And it's, you know, been a traditional assertion of Irish identity and Irish presence in New York, especially for the immigrant community which came here and felt that it was very unwelcome.
And there was a whole nativist movement in America to turn around. So this was, in the beginning, it was like we're not ever leaving, we're here to stay and, you know, we're proud of who we are and we're continuing to go into America. And this parade is symbolic of that. It's as much an immigrant event, I think, is an Irish event.
MARTIN: And what about this particular ban? There are gay rights groups who have been protesting this ban for years. But, as I understand it, it's not specific to gay rights groups. This is a general blanket ban against any kind of politically aligned group of people marching in the parade, right?
QUINN: Yeah, it's a complicated thing. You know, it's not a ban. It's not like if you're gay you can't march in the parade. You know, there's many gay Irish people as there are gay anything. It's about identifying themselves as gays marching - which, I for one, have no problem with especially because of the way they were treated and made to feel outcast.
You know, the parade is about inclusion. I think that was in the beginning, about immigrant communities trying to find its way in. And I think that immigrant community should be inclusive within its own borders. Times have changed.
MARTIN: What is the church's position been on this particular ban?
QUINN: The general attitude of the Catholic Church towards gays in general, which seems to be changing under the present pope - you know, that that's an unacceptable lifestyle, that homosexuality itself isn't a sin. You know, I only get into theological elements of this because I think that's not what this parade is about. It's about an ethnic identity. It's a celebration. And I don't think it's that hard to solve.
Actually, the chaplain of the fire department who died on 9/11, Michael Judge, was a Franciscan priest who had come out of the closet. And he was gay man, a Catholic priest. You could have a gender equality banner under Michael Judge, so they could march in the parade. I wouldn't, you know, I wouldn't think a lot of people would have any problem with that.
MARTIN: You were the grand marshal of an alternative parade that's held in Queens called the St. Pat's For All Parade. And there are several of these alternative parades. Can you describe that particular event? What's that like?
QUINN: Well, that was founded to say if we can't march under our own banner in Manhattan, we'll march in Queens. And the parade seems to get bigger every year. And some people just march in a parade. Other people just march in the one in Manhattan. And other people march in both.
And, you know, this hurling excommunications at each other is, I think, just useless in the end. And my own suspicion is that within 10 years, there'd be one parade again. And 20 years, will people looking back and until say, you know, I don't really know what that was about.
MARTIN: Irish-American writer Peter Quinn. Thanks so much for talking with us, Peter.
QUINN: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.