BOSTON (AP) — At least two big-city mayors say they’ll boycott St. Patrick’s Day parades to protest policies on gay groups.
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said this week he’s trying to broker a deal with his city’s parade organizers to allow a group of gay military veterans to march. The son of Irish immigrants said Wednesday that allowing gay groups to participate is “long overdue.” In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier said he’s skipping the nation’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in Manhattan because participants are not allowed to carry signs or banners that identify them as gay.
Boston parade organizers appear unwilling to budge. John Hurley, the plaintiff in a case in which the Supreme Court ruled in his favor in 1995 to allow organizers to keep out gay and lesbian groups, said “it’s final” that gay groups will continue to be excluded.
Hurley said Walsh, who marched in the parade when he was a Democratic state legislator before being elected mayor in November, “is not in a position” to overturn the court’s decision.
Lead parade organizer Philip Wuschke Jr. said gay people are not prohibited from marching with other groups. But he said organizers do not want the parade to turn into a demonstration for a particular group.
“The theme of the parade is St. Patrick’s Day. It is not a sexually oriented parade,” he said. “All we want to do is have a happy parade. The parade is a day of celebration, not demonstration.”
Walsh’s predecessor, longtime Mayor Thomas Menino, had refused to participate in the parade after the 1995 decision.
The New York City parade, a tradition that predates the city itself, draws more than 1 million people each March 17 to Fifth Avenue, one of Manhattan’s most famous thoroughfares, to watch about 200,000 participants. It has long been a stop on the city’s political trail and includes marching bands, Irish dancers and thousands of uniformed city workers.
“I will be participating in a number of other events to honor the Irish heritage of this city,” de Blasio said during a news conference this month. “But I simply disagree with the organizers of that parade.”
Since the 1990s, the event’s ban on gay signs and banners has spurred protests and litigation and led to the creation of an alternative, gay-friendly St. Patrick’s Day parade in the city’s Queens borough. In recent years, several elected officials — including de Blasio when he was the city’s elected public advocate — attended the inclusive parade and boycotted the traditional parade.
Though de Blasio’s predecessor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was a staunch supporter of same-sex marriage rights, he still marched in the Fifth Avenue parade all 12 years he was in office.
The parade dates to 1762, more than a century before all five boroughs linked to form modern New York City. It is run by a private organization, and judges have said the organizers have a First Amendment right to choose participants in their event. The organizers have ruled that some groups, such as colleges or civic organizations, can identify themselves, but LGBT groups cannot.
The new speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, this week banned any council signage at the parade, though individual members can still march. She will not.
De Blasio has resisted calls from some advocates to ban city workers — such as the NYPD or FDNY — from marching while wearing their uniforms or carrying signs. He has said he will once again march in the alternative parade in Queens.