Between Two Worlds

A recurring theme in my life — I live in two worlds that seem incompatible and never quite find belonging. Maybe its karmic — a lesson I needed to learn from a time I can’t remember. Or maybe a universal cruelty aimed right at me. I listened to the deacon preach on the story of the prodigal son recently. He said that this story points out the dangers of separating yourself from your true home. The younger son’s choice to leave is obvious, but the older son chose separation by refusing to join the party. Maybe the two-worldness is not something thrust upon me. Maybe it is of my creation, moment after chosen moment.

Cincy’s parade

A couple of weeks ago, I made a request of the family.  This year, we are going to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  We haven’t been able to go for the last couple of years because of busy stuff, but this year we had an opening.  I strongly identify with my Irish heritage. Only my mother’s father didn’t have Irish roots.  Interestingly, he’s the only grandparent I never met because he drank himself to death some 15 years or so before I was born.  Both my grandmothers died when I was young so my memories of them are fuzzy, but my grandpa, my dad’s dad, lived until I was in high school.  My father’s parents were Irish immigrants — poor and uneducated and hard-working and possessed with an Old World dedication to family.  I regret that I don’t know more about their journey here, but despite the gaps of details, I know that I stand on their shoulders.  My kids don’t have that personal connection, but I am committed to teaching them that they are connected.

Our church and school are named after an Irish saint and is surrounded by Irish imagery. And this year, we are going to the parade to celebrate our roots – those things that are always there, unseen and vital to our own growth.

I got home from work on Friday, logged on and read this news.  Gay Education Group Left Out of St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  Here’s what I understand the story to be.  GLSEN, according to their website, “strives to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.”  They applied to march in Cincinnati’s St. Patrick’s Day parade and were told on Thursday that they couldn’t because of the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality.  All across my Facebook news feed were calls to contact the parade organizers, to boycott the parade and its sponsors, to thank the council people who refused to participate.

Up went my blood pressure.

I read the comments on Facebook and on the above-linked story, some from people I know and generally share a world view with.  The linchpin here seems to be that the city gave the parade $10,000.  I’ve seen no verification of that, nor in what form that money comes.  Maybe it’s donated public services?  Also on the list of what I don’t know:  Whether the city has policies about such situations.  Whether any other organizations had their applications to march rejected.

And a hunch:  This $10,000 is being used as a tool to whip up moral outrage.  City money or not, I suspect hay would have been made.

Here I am again, straddling the paradox of conflict.

They are drifting apart quickly and I have to pick one or lose my balance.

Exclusion is the wrong tactic.  The Catholic Church is wrong on gay marriage, but absolutely does not tolerate bullying in schools.  Of this I am certain.  My eyes are wide open to the flaws in the church, but still I choose to participate because I believe the good outweighs the bad.  My personal beliefs are often at odds with the church but in my local parish, I have experienced a (mostly) loving, supportive, and welcoming community.  I choose to change what I can by focusing on what we hold in common.  I am also quite vocal in my opposition to some of the church’s teachings.  I firmly believe that good smart people can look at issues and reach vastly different conclusions.

Now the news from the other foot. GLSEN certainly know what the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is, right?  I know I’m an insider on this one, but doesn’t everyone know Irish and Catholic are deeply intertwined?  Our city’s parade was founded in 1967 by the Ancient Order of Hibernians.  AOH is an Irish Catholic men’s lay organization.  Given that this has been elevated to a national issue by GLSEN, complete with a slick press release, I am suspicious of their motives. My gut tells me that they picked this battle for publicity.  Really, how significant is this parade to the mission of this group?

Image source

I deeply, deeply resent that this group has hijacked the one day that this city celebrates my ancestry.

Compounding this are the comments from my fellow citizens.  To summarize — St. Patrick’s Day is just an excuse to get drunk.  What a bunch of bigots.  Stupid, backward hicks.  The Catholic Church chooses to endorse the “sin” of drunkenness over the “sin” of homosexuality.  And, my personal favorite, the Catholic Church is full of child molesters.  Because we always have to get that one in.

Still here (image source)

What makes my blood pressure go even higher is the irony to which people seem completely blinded here.  The Irish in America have suffered under these stereotypes for generations.  (If you are unaware, start with this well-annotated Wikipedia entry.) GLSEN, an organization that I would imagine fights against such harmful stereotypes with respect to gender, has essentially created the environment to give this ugliness a voice and legitimacy.  One set of hateful stereotypes of bad, the other is a-ok.  Exploited, even.  Embraced, definitely.  I can no more eschew my ancestry than anyone can eschew their sexual orientation.

I deeply, deeply resent that I am being asked to chose between my commitment to equality and celebrating my heritage.

Let this be a lesson in unintended consequences.  The group that has chosen this to make their stand is alienating a person who otherwise has been extremely supportive of LGBT equality.

The story of the prodigal son ends with the father explaining himself to the older son.  

It doesn’t tell us what the son said in return, or which way he went.

Update:  The parade organizers have stated that this group did march last year and violated the rules.  They also indicated they would violate the rules this year.  Source.

4 thoughts on “Between Two Worlds”

  1. Resentment is a personal choice. Likely a reaction to someone else hoping that you would respond that way. You can also chose to crumble up that resentment and burn it to a crisp. And live free of resentment.

  2. Just a quick response, Katie. Your title, “Between Two Worlds,” strikes a deep chord with me. For my entire childhood & adolescence, I had to hide being lesbian; in fact I had only one friend in h.s. to admit this to (1950s-60s). Your frustration in having to choose between equality & having fun w/yr family in t/parade is 1 day only. Parade policies aside, how accepting would individual lgbt people be w/shirts saying “Gay & Irish” ? Sadly, too many gay people have to choose on a regular basis whether to come out on a job, risk losing their kids, apartments, & more. Sorry to get emotional about this, but the list is endless. Wishing for t/day when none of us have to choose between parts of our selves. Well written, as usual, Katie. Thanks! Phebe

  3. Thank you for responding, Phebe. I’m so glad to hear from you. I can’t speak for all parade attendees, of course, but I never would have looked twice at a “Gay and Irish” shirt. Just another shirt in a sea of green. Irish Catholics are just as gay as everyone else. Now if I saw that, I would take it as a challenge, as if the person wearing it assumes I would have a problem with it.

    I know you weren’t trying to trivialize my feelings by saying it is only one day and that it’s only about having fun with my family. This is about the core of who I am as a person. I am aware of the very real discrimination faced by homosexuals, and I have always spoken up for equality. I feel this issue was unnecessary, in fact, probably designed to unfold just like this so the organization could get publicity.

    I think there is a wedge now where there wasn’t one before. You know I think you’re awesome and your writings have touched me deeply. I think that we change the world by listening to each other, not by setting up false divides and forcing people to choose.

    Thank you Phebe.

    Katie

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