World & Nation

St. Patrick’s Day steps off in controversy over gays in New York, Boston

Guinness, the stout that makes the Irish, well, stout, withdrew its support of the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade, making the score two mayors and three beer-makers who refuse to participate in the annual rite because gays were barred from marching publicly.

Around the world, the Irish and those who want to honor them marked St. Patrick’s Day on Monday with parades and the illumination of landmarks with a green glow, the mark of Ireland and its culture. In New York, what is billed as the 253rd St. Patrick’s Day parade kicked off on Fifth Avenue.

But it took place without the presence of Mayor Bill de Blasio after the recently elected mayor chose not to march because of an ongoing dispute over whether gays can participate under their own banner. He joins Boston’s new Mayor Martin Walsh, who sat out his city’s parade over the weekend because gays there were also banned.

De Blasio held the traditional St. Patrick’s Day breakfast at Gracie Mansion with the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny. Kenny participated in the New York parade, which bars gays. Ironically, Dublin’s major parade does include such gay rights groups as Dublin Pride and BeLonG To.


De Blasio recalled his roots growing up in Massachusetts, living in a congressional district once represented by Irish American political icons John F. Kennedy and Tip O’Neill.

“I also grew up in an atmosphere so rich in Irish culture,” the mayor said. He praised the Irish, who helped build the city and defined much of its political culture for well more than a century. “In this city of immigrants we never forget where we came from,” he said.

Over the weekend, Guinness, synonymous with Ireland but now brewed around the world, announced that it would drop its sponsorship of the New York parade because of the exclusion of gays. Gay-rights groups had threatened to spill the beer in protest and the Stonewall Inn, considered the birthplace of gay rights, would stop selling it.

 “Guinness has a strong history of supporting diversity and being an advocate for equality for all. We were hopeful that the policy of exclusion would be reversed for this year’s parade,” the brewer said in a written statement issued by a spokesman for its parent company, Diageo. “As this has not come to pass, Guinness has withdrawn its participation. We will continue to work with community leaders to ensure that future parades have an inclusionary policy,” Guinness said.


On Friday, two other major beer companies, Sam Adams brewer Boston Beer Co. and Heineken, dropped their sponsorship of parades in Boston and New York because of the issue.

The issued remained visible over the weekend in Boston and its parade. Organizers of a float intended to promote diversity threw Mardi Gras-type beads to onlookers. A similar scene played out in downtown Philadelphia.

The dispute over gay participation has become as much part of the St. Patrick’s tradition as the lighting of key landmarks. Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland Paris in France, as well as the French capital’s Moulin Rouge nightclub were lighted in green as were the Empire State Building and Niagara Falls on the border between New York and Canada.


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