The Danger of Tinted Lenses

And no, I’m not talking about the lenses that are in your glasses.

Last Friday, the news broke that the brewers of Sam Adams and Heineken were withdrawing their sponsorship of the Boston and New York St. Patrick’s Day Parades. Soon after, traditional Irish brewery Guinness pulled out of the New York parade. Also boycotting were Boston mayor Martin Walsh, New York mayor Bill de Blasio, and many other municipal politicians.

Why? They perceived the parades and their organizers as exclusionary.

Naturally, reaction was swift. The New York Daily News, the New York Post, and Reuters, just to name a few, ran stories about the gay “ban” in place at the two parades. An LGBT group called Irish Queers released a statement congratulating Heineken and Guinness and condemning the parade’s “unapologetic homophobia.” An interviewee on PIX11 News, when asked about the boycotts, criticized Ford Motor Company, the last major sponsor of the New York parade, stating that they were “still in the camp of the homophobes.”

A little research discredits all of these statements.

Never mind the fact that the organizers’ decision to include or exclude any group is protected by a 1995 Supreme Court decision. That doesn’t matter here. Both parades claim to ban groups and banners attempting to make any statement of any kind. An article in the Boston Globe quoted Brian Mahoney, the Boston parade’s chief marshal, as stating that previously banned groups include hate groups such as the KKK and the Westboro Baptist Church and causes that seem as benign as a group against court-mandated school busing. They have also banned an antiabortion organization and an Irish heterosexual pride group. (I would imagine that the New York parade organizers have laid down similar bans for similar reasons; as Catholic League president Bill Donohue claims, NRA Catholics and vegetarian Catholics are not allowed to march under banners advertising the NRA or vegetarianism either.)

So we see here that the ban on statements is not specifically targeted at gay and lesbian groups, but is an across-the-board restriction on every group applying to march in the parades. It is unfortunate, then, that individuals, groups, and news outlets — on both sides of the debate — trumpet only the parts of the story that furthers their own viewpoints. Donohue recently wrote an editorial for Newsmax that, frankly, uses inflammatory language (the title claims that gays were bent on “crashing” the parade). The same can be said of Irish Queers and some of the posts on their blog. All of them view each issue through tinted glasses that block out any opposing viewpoints.

This isn’t a problem confined to the LGBT community and their opponents. We see the same problem all the time with Republicans and Democrats, religious and atheists, American politicians and Russian politicians. For every person willing to engage in intelligent conversation, there are ten more who pull at straws, make ad hominem attacks, or threaten government shutdowns.

It’s a sad commentary on our society when the words “bigot,” “discrimination,” “depraved,” or “hate group” get thrown around — by both sides — like they mean nothing at all. It’s a sad commentary on our society that many people say, “I’ll tolerate your beliefs… as long as they agree with mine.” And it’s a sad commentary on our society when so many people jump to conclusions, ignore the full story, and then go out and make so much noise.

So how do we get past all of this?

First, it’s worth noting that there was a fairly large backlash — internet and otherwise — to the boycotts. Many gay and straight commenters on various news articles echoed the sentiment that the St. Patrick’s Day parades are not appropriate venues for these topics. Irish prime minister Enda Kenny, who marched in the New York parade, elevated himself above the controversy, saying that the parade is about Irishness, not sexuality. Timothy Cardinal Dolan, who also attended and celebrated the pre-parade Mass, said that he was glad that “thousands and thousands” of gay people marched in the parade.

Second, I’d like to introduce you to Randy Foster and Steve Martin, a gay couple who have lived in South Boston for seven years. This year, they proposed a diversity-themed float featuring rainbows shooting out of cannons to the Boston parade organizers, who quietly but enthusiastically accepted. Theirs was one of two openly LGBT floats allowed into the parade, the other being run by the South Boston Association of Non-Profits.

Why were they allowed to participate? Said Foster to the Boston Globe, “How in the world do you ever get compromise if the first statement out of your mouth is, ‘I’m different than you?’” These two floats respected the rules that the parade organizers laid down, and in return, the parade organizers respected them — working for close to a year, and going completely out of their way, to include them. “If we’re going to have a message of inclusion, it shouldn’t be for one group,” Foster remarked to Reuters. (This was promptly and flagrantly misreported by the Huffington Post, but no one will ever recognize them as a legitimate news source.)

Dare I say, now, that Foster and Martin are the real champions of equality and diversity? They have earned my utmost respect. Boston Beers, Heineken, Guinness, and Bill de Blasio, however, have lost it.

If I drank alcohol, I would boycott those three beers, not because of the stances that they supposedly take, but because all three have acted out of sheer stupidity.

As for Mayor Bill… I’d really appreciate it if he could run this city half as well as Mike Bloomberg.

The only tinted lenses that should be worn on St. Patrick’s Day are green.

Read the story about Foster and Martin here.

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