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social sciences

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Holidays and Observances  
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St. Patrick's Day

When the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (ILGO) applied to march in New York's St. Patrick's Day Parade in Manhattan in 1991, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who organize the event, placed them on a wait list, ostensibly due to city-imposed limits on the size of the parade. Mayor David Dinkins offered to lift the restrictions so that all wait-listed groups could participate, at which point the Hibernians turned down ILGO's request on the grounds that the parade was a Roman Catholic event and that the Church condemns homosexuality as sinful. Eventually, Division 7 of the Hibernians allowed the ILGO contingent to march with them, although they were not permitted to carry their identifying banner. Dinkins chose to take a place with ILGO instead of leading the parade as mayors traditionally do.

Lawsuits over the issue of inclusion continued until 1995, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that organizers of parades have the right to determine who may or may not take part.

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Since parades in the Bronx, Staten Island, and Brooklyn also excluded glbtq Irish-Americans, an inclusive St. Patrick's Day Parade and Irish Fair was established in Queens in 2000. The 2002 inclusive parade honored New York Fire Department chaplain Father Mychal Judge, a proud participant in the Queens parades, who died in the line of duty at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Mardi Gras

Like St. Patrick's Day, Mardi Gras, or Carnival, as it is often called, is technically a religious holiday. The last Tuesday before the penitential fasting season of Lent in the Christian calendar, the holiday has become increasingly secular. A festival known for wild abandon, sexual promiscuity, feasting, drinking, dancing, parading, and elaborate masquerade, it is a significant holiday in cities such as New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro, and, most recently, Sydney, Australia.

Indeed, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is one of the world's largest celebrations of glbtq pride, and lasts for three weeks, usually in February. The festivities include all types of parties, performances, exhibitions, an outdoor fair day, and a two-week film festival. The culminating event is the Mardi Gras Parade, which features over 100 floats from glbtq and gay-friendly organizations, and is broadcast nationally on Australian television.

Tellingly, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras originated in political activism, in the struggle to repeal laws that criminalized homosexual acts and to end police harassment of gay men and lesbians. A demonstration on June 24, 1978 (chosen to commemorate Stonewall) erupted into a riot when police suddenly rescinded the organizers' parade permit and arrested more than fifty people.

Although the police eventually dropped all the charges against those who were arrested, the lesbian and gay community of Australia was galvanized by the attack. Organizers quickly planned a follow-up parade during Mardi Gras, which became an annual event that steadily grew in size over time.

As repressive laws against homosexuality were gradually repealed by the Australian states, the Sydney Mardi Gras celebration became less political and more purely festive. It was ultimately coopted as an annual tourist event, and it attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world.

Day of Silence

The genesis of the Day of Silence, held annually in late April, was a class project at the University of Virginia in 1996. Assigned to create a non-violent protest event, students devised the Day of Silence to call attention to the situation of glbtq youth who are silent about their sexual orientation because of fear of harassment from classmates and lack of support from instructors and administrators.

The organizers were able to secure the participation of more than 150 students--an impressive number for a class project--who carried signs explaining the reason for their silence.

The student organizers recognized the value of their endeavor and reached out to other colleges across the country, receiving an extremely favorable response: in 1997 the Day of Silence was observed at almost one hundred colleges and universities.

In 2001 the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) took over the job of organizing the Day of Silence nationwide and expanding it to include students at high schools and middle schools. The need for awareness of the problems of glbtq teens is particularly acute: a survey conducted by GLSEN in 2005 revealed that eighty percent of glbtq students had suffered harassment at school and that over thirty percent had absented themselves for at least a day because of fear for their own safety.

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