Newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision not to march in the New York St.Patrick’s Parade on March 17 has met with mixed reaction in Irish circles. A gay Irish leader has praised the decision, but others have disagreed with it.
De Blasio told a press conference on Tuesday that he will not march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue this March 17 because it excludes gay groups from marching. This marks the first time in 20 years that a mayor of New York has refused to march in the annual event on Fifth Avenue, one of the biggest parades in the world.
“I am not planning on marching in the parade,” the mayor said. “I haven’t in the past in my capacity as an elected official. I will be participating in a number of other events to honor the Irish heritage of this city and the contributions of Irish Americans. But I simply disagree with the organizers of that parade in their exclusion of some individuals in this city.”
The mayor was commenting on the parade’s decades-old ban preventing Irish LGBT organizations from marching under their own banners in the annual parade.
Although he is personally refusing to march in the Fifth Avenue parade, de Blasio has denied a plea from gay rights groups to ban city workers from wearing their uniforms at the parade. The request was made by LGBT rights groups and elected officials, including two City Council members and Letitia James, the new public advocate, who penned an open letter with fellow supporters to de Blasio this week in the Gay City News.
“The presence of uniformed police and firefighters in such a procession sends a clear signal to LGBTQ New Yorkers that these personnel, who are charged with serving and protecting all New Yorkers, do not respect the lives or safety of LGBT people,” they wrote.
“We are asking you to direct all city departments not to organize marchers for or allow personnel to participate in this anti-LGBTQ procession either in uniform or with any banner that identifies them with the city.”
But de Blasio will not take that step. “I believe that uniformed city workers have the right to participate if they choose to, and I respect that right,” he said. “I respect the right of our city workers to march in uniform – period.”
Conservative activist Bill Donohue of the Catholic League told the Irish Voice he was delighted to hear the mayor would not participate in the main parade.
“This is the first time in New York City history that its mayor has decided to boycott the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Personally, I am delighted,” Donohue said.
“I lead the Catholic League contingent every year, and I do not want to march with a public official who does not want to be associated with Irish Catholics.
“I’ve had it with this guy,” Donohue continued. “He has a nominating committee and he brings in an imam, a rabbi, two ministers and no priests. Catholics are 52 percent of the New York City population and this guy believes in diversity and he sticks it to us?
“And now he says he doesn’t want to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade? He can do like the others do. If you feel some sympathy to homosexuals go march in Queens.”
Asked if it was correct to believe that Irish gay rights groups would not be welcome to march in the New York City parade now or in the future under their own banners Donohue replied, “ Yes. Now, if they want to blend in they can join in with the Catholic League. I don’t go around asking, it’s none of my business what people do in bed.”
Donohue concluded that the participation of gay Irish groups could potentially lead to conflict.
“The mayor says he won’t accede to the request by gay activists to ban city workers from marching. So kind of him - otherwise he would be looking at an insurrection,” Donohue said.
New York physician Dr. Kevin Cahill, who led the New York City parade as grand marshal in 2000, told the Irish Voice on Tuesday that he regretted de Blasio’s decision.
“In this era of Pope Francis and the success of the Irish peace process we see the extraordinary impact that dialogue can bring about. We clearly need it very badly in this instance,” Cahill said. “Absenting himself is not a solution.”
Brendan Fay, longtime community activist and the co-organizer of the inclusive St. Pat’s For All Parade in Queens however praised de Blasio’s stance.
“Today Mayor de Blasio took this issue a historic step further in stating that as mayor he would not be marching on Fifth Avenue because of its clear policy of discrimination against LGBT Irish groups,” Fay told the Irish Voice.
“Throughout Ireland and the U.S. there are a growing number of St. Patrick’s parades that don’t discriminate. In Seattle, Buffalo and Fort Lauderdale and in Dublin, Cork and Galway the parades include LGBT groups. In fact a gay group won the best float in the parade in Dublin.”
Fay said he has not yet heard from de Blasio’s office about his participation in the annual inclusive St. Pat’s For All parade that will be held in Sunnyside and Woodside in Queens on Sunday, March 2.
Fay feels that the only real surprise about the latest developments in the longstanding parade feud is how long it has endured.
“I never thought that 15 years after we organized our first inclusive St. Patrick’s Day parade that we’d still be dealing with this standoff,” said Fay.
“The Fifth Avenue parade is the biggest, most historic and prestigious Irish celebration in the world. And here is the mayor of our city saying he will not attend it because of its policy of discrimination. It’s an embarrassment for the Irish community in New York City.
“This story goes out across the world. This is not who we are. What are we going to do about it?”