NYC mayor skips St. Pat's parade amid tension over gays; Ireland official promotes 'Irishness'

The Associated Press

People dress in the emerald green to honour Ireland's Saint Partick, as they enjoy the atmosphere during the St Patrick's day parade in Dublin, Ireland, March, 17, 2014. The world's largest parade celebrating Irish heritage set off on a cold and gray morning, the culmination of a weekend of St. Patrick's Day revelry. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

Associated Press + More

By MEGHAN BARR and VERENA DOBNIK, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — A weekend of St. Patrick's Day revelry and tensions over the exclusion of gays in some of the celebrations culminated Monday in New York, where the world's largest parade celebrating Irish heritage stepped off without the city's new mayor and Guinness beer amid a dispute over whether participants can carry pro-gay signs.

The parade of kilted Irish-Americans and bagpipers set off on a cold, gray morning. Hundreds of thousands of spectators lined Fifth Avenue, but the shivering, bundled up crowd was only about half as thick as in previous years.

Revelers also gathered elsewhere for green-themed celebrations, including some 400,000 locals and tourists in Dublin, where gay rights groups took part in the festivities.

De Blasio held New York's traditional St. Patrick's Day breakfast at Gracie Mansion with the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, but boycotted the parade because organizers said marchers were not allowed to carry gay-friendly signs or identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Weeks ago de Blasio said he would skip the parade over the issue, but Guinness abruptly dropped its support a day before the event. The Dublin-based company pulled sponsorship assets, including on-air presence, parade participation and any promotional materials that weren't already printed, although the beer maker had already made a payment to parade organizers, spokeswoman Alix Dunn said.

Other beer companies took part in the boycotts, with Samuel Adams withdrawing its sponsorship of Boston's parade and Heineken also bagging New York's parade because of the exclusion of gays.

Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who greeted passing dignitaries in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral wearing a woolen Irish cap over his red cardinal's skull cap, said he supports the participation of individual gays and hoped St. Patrick's Day could be a day of unity and joy.

"I know that there are thousands and thousands of gay people marching in this parade," he said. "I know it. And I'm glad they are."

Police Commissioner William Bratton marched with a contingent of uniformed officers. Gay activists protesting the exclusion of official LGBT groups held a news conference before the march to say they didn't think the NYPD officers should participate in uniform.

About two dozen gay rights advocates protested the parade holding placards high enough for marchers to see. "If Danny Boy were gay, would he be welcome today?" read one.

Protester Richard Lynch wore a Guy Fawkes mask, which was popular among members of the Occupy Wall Street movement. He said de Blasio should have ordered the police commissioner not to march.

"This was a big mistake," Lynch said. "It says the mayor isn't serious about LGBT inclusion in this parade."

Across the Atlantic in the land that inspired St. Patrick's Day, hundreds of thousands of people crowded the center of Dublin for Ireland's major parade. The hour-long procession featured loads of wit, brightly colored costumes and dancers, including from Ireland's gay community — and nobody had a public word to say about it.

For the second year running, the parade included groups from Ireland's gay rights groups, Dublin Pride and BeLonG To. Gay groups are a big part of the Dublin community dance groups, which wear flamboyant outfits and feature in each year's Dublin parade.

Boston's new mayor, Martin Walsh, opted out of his city's parade Sunday after talks broke down that would have allowed a gay veterans group to march. Late last week, The Boston Beer Company, brewer of Samuel Adams, also pulled its support.

The beer companies who backed out of the parades in recent days — withdrawing their names from events on a day frequently associated with alcohol-fueled revelry — could signal a developing sense of supporting gay rights as a business imperative, not just a matter of social values or politics, experts said.