Civil Rights
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The Topic
Civil rights refers to the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled, and to the laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, creed, gender, age, sexual orientation, and many other criteria.
The Context
New York is the most diverse city on the planet, home to people of every race, nationality, language group, religion, sex, and sexual orientation, and to some of the world's premiere human rights groups. There have been intense intergroup conflicts throughout the city's history, from the Draft Riots of 1863 to the Crown Heights riots of 1992. But more amazing is how well such varied peoples have gotten along for hundreds of years.

Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia created a Committee on Unity after some race riots in 1943, in order "to make New York City a place where people of all races and religions may work and live side by side in harmony and have mutual respect for each other, and where democracy is a living reality." Eventually, the city and state governments passed laws against discrimination and established agencies to enforce them.

The Reporter
Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly Gay USA on Channel 35 on Thursdays at 11 PM.
The Archives
See past monthly updates for Civil Rights.

by Andy Humm

St. Patrick's Day Parade; Detention Policy Reversed; Human Rights Commission Criticized

New York City has been the scene of a St. Patrick's Day parade or procession since 1762. Sometimes there have been as many as three on the same day due to splits within the Irish community.

The most prominent split in recent years began in 1991, when the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization first applied to march in the Fifth Avenue St. Patrick's Day Parade run by the Ancient Order of Hibernians. They were put on a waiting list, supposedly because the city limited the length of the parade. When Mayor David Dinkins offered to let the parade run longer to include all on the waiting list, the Hibernians refused the gay group's application. Their argument, eventually made in court, was that the parade is a Roman Catholic celebration and that homosexuality violates Catholic teaching. After some furious negotiations, the more liberal Division 7 of the Hibernians agreed to play host to the gay group within their contingent. Though the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization was not allowed to carry their banner, they were joined by the mayor, who usually marched at the front of the parade. They were cheered along the parade route but mostly jeered. A beer can was launched at Mr. Dinkins head and he wrote in a New York Times op-ed that it reminded him of marching through Birmingham, Alabama on a civil rights protest.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that parades are protected by the First Amendment and can include whomever they wish. In 1998, the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization lost a federal suit against Mayor Rudy Giuliani over the right to demonstrate up Fifth Avenue prior to the parade. The court said that the police department's contention that such a demonstration was a threat to public safety was not unreasonable. So the cops have to handle the arrest of scores of protestors trying to march instead.

The Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization is still excluded from the Manhattan St. Patrick's Day march. Parades in the Bronx, Staten Island, and Brooklyn also keep Irish gay groups out. But a St. Patrick's Parade and Irish Fair was started in Queens in 2000 that welcomes all comers. This year, it will be held on March 3.

At one time, a politician's place in a St. Patrick's Day parade was an indication of his or her status in the Irish community. Now, given the gay boycott of parades that exclude gay contingents, a politician is judged by whether or not he or she marches at all.

As mayor, David Dinkins stayed out of the parade after his 1991 experience. But in 1993, his police commissioner, Ray Kelly, ordered the arrest of over 230 demonstrators supporting the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization on St. Patrick's Day.

There was a time prior to his mayoralty that Rudy Giuliani himself stayed away from the Manhattan parade because of its anti-gay policy. But as mayor, he proudly marched up Fifth Avenue with the Hibernians, often going over the route several times.

Candidate Mike Bloomberg boycotted the Manhattan parade in 2001, but plans to march this year. His spokesman, Ed Skyler, told the Daily News that "the mayor believes the best way to change an organization is from within," which raises the question why Bloomberg resigned from discriminatory private clubs just before running for mayor.

Councilmember Christine Quinn, an out lesbian who has been arrested supporting the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, said, "If the mayor actually analyzed the history of the struggle, he would see that his decision is wrong. Many people have tried to work with the Ancient Order of Hibernians from within and it has been proven that it doesn't work. Well-respected Hibernians have tried and couldn't. No reason to believe this mayor can."

New York's US Senators are split. Chuck Schumer boycotts exclusionary parades. Candidate Hillary Clinton marched in both the inclusive and the exclusive St. Patrick's Day parades in 2000 and found a reason to be out of town last year on March 17.

Gov. George Pataki marches in the Fifth Avenue parade. State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, who wants Pataki's job, hasn't marched in a St. Patrick's Day parade up until now ("I haven't been invited," he told Gotham Gazette), but said, "I haven't made up my mind," about this year's parade.

Aine Duggan, a spokesperson for the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, said that hers is a "hopeful" group, but they do not even communicate with the Ancient Order of Hibernians. "We understand Bloomberg's interest in marching because we share it," she said. "But we will only march in it if it is inclusive. If they discriminate we would ask him not to march. We need to give them the motivation to work with us." Her group is asking sponsors to withdraw from the parade and is forming a coalition with Razem, a Polish gay group that is excluded from October's Pulaski Day Parade.

The Manhattan and Queens parades are both dedicated this year to the fallen heroes of September 11th. The Fifth Avenue parade, on Saturday March 16 this year, has as its grand marshal Catholic Cardinal Edward Egan, an opponent of civil rights protections for gay people. The Queens parade is highlighting the life of Father Mychal Judge, the fire chaplain who died at the Trade Center, who was a gay man who supported gay and AIDS causes. Brendan Fay, a lead organizer of the Queens event, said that a contingent of fire fighters from Drogheda outside of Dublin is coming over for his parade. While he is disappointed with Bloomberg's plans to march on Fifth Avenue, they welcome the Mayor's participation in the Queens event.

The Fifth Avenue parade has had its share of internal controversy this year. Its president, William Flynn, a former grand marshal, resigned in frustration in August over resistance to his attempts to bring order to the group's fiscal dealings. He also favored resolving the dispute with the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization. State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office is conducting an investigation of the parade committee.

Detention of Demonstrators Reversed

The Giuliani administration had a policy in recent years of detaining anyone arrested in a demonstration for at least 24 hours. A lawsuit from private civil rights attorney Jonathan Moore, joined by the New York Civil Liberties Union, led to the reversal of that policy. Moore says that those unreasonably detained within the last three years can sue and expect a settlement.

City Bar Association Report on City Human Rights Commission

The Bar Association of the City of New York issued a scathing report in December chronicling the decline of the City Commission on Human Rights over the last ten years and making recommendations on how to breath some life into it. The report can be read on the Bar Association's website.


Recommended Links:

  • New York City Commission on Human Rights - 40 Rector Street, New York, NY 10006; (212) 306-7500 The Commission enforces the City's Human Rights Law which prohibits discrimination based on race, creed, color, age, national origin, alienage orcitizenship status, gender (including sexual harassment), sexual orientation, status as a victim of domestic violence, disability (including HIV/AIDS relatedconditions), lawful occupation, arrest or conviction record, marital status, family status, and retaliation. The Law prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, as well as bias-related harassment.
  • New York State Division of Human Rights - One Fordham Plaza, 4th Floor, Bronx, New York 10458; (718) 741-8400 The State Division of Human Rights serves as an alternative to the court system for resolving discrimination claims--in employment, in places of public accommodation, resort or amusement, in educational institutions, in commercial space and in credit transactions and to take other actions against discrimination. The agency is responsible for developing civil rights legislation and policy for the State of New York, and for promoting awaren essof civil rights issues and remedies.
  • American Civil Liberties Union - 125 Broad St., New York, NY 10004 "The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is our nation's guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States."
  • Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund - 99 Hudson Street, 12th floor, New York, NY 10013; (212) 966-5932 is "the first organization on the east coast to defend and promote the legal rights of Asian Americans through litigation, legal advocacy, community education, leadership development and the position of free legal assistance to low-income and immigrant Asian Americans."
  • Human Rights Watch - 350 Fifth Avenue, 34th floor, New York, NY 10118-3299 USA; (212) 290-4700 "Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world. We stand with victims and activists to prevent discrimination, to uphold political freedom, to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime, and to bring offenders to justice."
  • Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund - 120 Wall Street, Suite 1500, New York, NY 10005-3904; (212) 809-8585 The nation's oldest and largest legal organization working for the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV/AIDS.
  • NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund - 99 Hudson St., New York, NY 10013; (212) 219-1900 "Committed to staying on the cutting edge of the movement for racial justice."
  • National Organization for Women/NYC - 150 W. 28th St., #304, New York, NY 10001; (212) 627-9895 NOW/NYC "works towards equality for women with a focus on several key issues: battling racism and violence against women, guaranteeing reproductive rights, advocating lesbian and bisexual rights, fighting for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and generally working towards economic, educational, and political equity. The chapter provides educational outreach and takes part in political lobbying, zap actions and demonstrations in response to various social situations. The Service Fund of NOW-NYC also offers referrals, support groups, and clinics for women in need."
  • New York Civil Liberties Union - 125 Broad St., New York, NY 10004; (212) 344-3005 The NYCLU is "a statewide organization dedicated to the protection and enhancement of New Yorkers' civil liberties as enumerated in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of New York."
  • Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund - 99 Hudson St., 4th floor, New York, NY 10013; (212) 219-3360 "Through litigation, policy analysis and education, the Puerto Rican Lega lDefense and Education Fund works to secure, promote and protect the civil and human rights of the Puerto Rican and wider Latino community."

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