Gay, lesbian group excluded from St. Patrick's Day parade

Several City Councilmembers withdraw from event

CINCINNATI - City Council members are taking a stand for gay rights after a local gay education group was told it can't take part in a St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Officials with the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network of Greater Cincinnati said they were told Friday that they couldn't be in this weekend's parade.

Josh Wagoner, co-chair of GLSEN said the group participated in the parade last year without any issues.

"We had a great time. The crowd was very receptive, they were cheering for us," Wagoner said.

He said he was informed of the decision by parade grand marshal Chris Schulte. Schulte later cited long-standing parade rules as the reason for the decision.

"The reason is that we have the words ‘gay and lesbian' in the name of the organization, and we have those words on our banner, and Chris or the other organizers felt that was not in keeping with the Irish Catholic event," Wagoner said.

He said GLSEN is not looking for a fight and is not advocating people boycott the parade. The group simply wants to take part in the event.

Wagoner said they are told there are efforts being made to get them back in the parade.

Parent and former GLSEN board member Jen Short said, "I think that is sends a really bad message to our kids -- to our community -- that if you're different, you're not OK."

Schulte released a statement Friday evening saying:

"The Cincinnati St. Patrick Day parade, started in 1967, is a celebration of the Patron Saint of Ireland, St. Patrick.  The parade has a rich history in Cincinnati, but has always required that the parade should not be used for advancing any political party, social movement or cause.  The parade has allowed participants to identify themselves and the organization they represent, but no solicitations are permitted by the marchers or in the crowd along the parade route.  These restrictions are plainly set forth in the ‘Parade Orders' given to all potential participants.  The Gay Lesbian Straight Educational Network participated in last year's Parade, but did not abide by the parade's requirements.  The Network again this year indicates it will not agree to the ‘Parade Orders.'  Unfortunately, therefore, the Network cannot participate in this year's parade.  The rules and order apply equally to all.  For instance, pro-life and pro-choice groups who have not agreed to the requirements have not been participants in the parade in the past."

"Finally, the parade receives no money from the City, but only reduced costs it pays for police presence.  It is the St. Patrick parade's understanding that other parades held in the City also receive the same or similar reduced costs."

Councilmember Chris Seelbach's office released a statement Friday afternoon saying that local leaders have asked the parade's committee to reconsider their decision and let GLSEN participate.

"As a parade subsidized by taxpayer dollars, it is shocking to hear that GLSEN has been denied entry due to their support and efforts in the LGBT community," Seelbach said. "The City has proudly supported the St. Patrick's Day parade as a great cultural and heritage festival for many years, but we can in no way support an organization that discriminates against groups due to LGBT affiliations. The people of Cincinnati have made it clear that anti-gay discrimination is wrong. If groups are discriminated against I am certain my colleagues will join me in rescinding taxpayer support."

Seelbach is the city's first openly-gay council member.

Qualls also called on the parade committee to let GLSEN march.

Her office released a statement saying, "I strongly support inclusion of all members of our community who want to participate in events like this. Cincinnati voters demonstrated their strong support for inclusion for our local GLBT community when they repealed Article 12, the anti-gay charter amendment, in 2004."

She said the City Council then approved the city's current human rights ordinance in 2006.  

"I remain hopeful that parade organizers demonstrate that they share the value of inclusion of all Cincinnatians and let GLSEN march to share their message of anti-discrimination," Qualls said.

The vice-mayor said that unless GLSEN is allowed to participate, her campaign will not take part in the parade.

Several other council members joined the Qualls and Seelbach in voicing their displeasure with the decision.

Coucilmember Yvette Simpson also tweeted "I will NEVER apologize 4 supporting inclusion & opposing discrimination."

City Council candidate Michelle Dillingham said the council should convene a special meeting and pull funding from the parade due to GLSEN's exclusion.

Dillingham said city policy from 2008 allows four events -- including the St. Patrick's Day parade, Findlay Market Opening Day parade, the Black Family Reunion and Juneteenth parades -- to only be charged 10 percent of the cost for city services.

Dillingham was and aide to the late Councilman David Crowley, a gay rights defender who introduced parade policy.

She said Crowley would be upset at GLSEN's exclusion and that the council should act decisively to end the subsidy.

The parade is scheduled to start downtown at noon Saturday.

GLSEN mainly deals with gay-straight alliances at the high school level. The group said it's sad that the students will see that kind of discrimination in public, especially since it's the same kind of discrimination they see at school.

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