While Mayor de Blasio, City Council members and several beer sponsors were intentionally absent from this year's St. Patrick's Day Parade, demonstrators from the group Irish Queers braved the cold to protest the parade organizers' policy towards openly gay groups.
Protesters from Irish Queers lined along the parade route between 56th and 57th Street, brandishing a giant rainbow banner that read "BOYCOTT HOMOPHOBIA" along with a large "NYPD Shame" sign. Smaller posters featured slogans such as "No (Gay) Irish Need Apply," "Bigotry Shouldn't Be Paraded," and "Honor the Ireland of today, not the prejudice of yesterday." One sign quoted Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore, who recently met with New York Irish gay community leaders and criticized the parade's organizers, stating "Exclusion is not an Irish thing."
Demonstrators shouted "We're Irish, we're queer, we have the right to be here!" and "Why can't queers march in New York? Queers can march in Dublin, why not in New York?" as members of the protest marching band Rude Mechanical Orchestra performed on the sidewalk.
Most parade-goers we spoke with were unaware of the controversy surrounding the parade. One first-time attendee—who declined to give his name—said he was surprised by the withdrawal of corporate sponsorship but agreed it was necessary. "Come on, it's the 21st century!"
After receiving boycott threats from several gay bars including the Stonewall Inn, Sam Adams, Heineken, and Guinness recently withdrew sponsorship from the New York and Boston parades. But demonstrators expressed less interest in corporate sponsorship and more concern with the presence of uniformed police officers in the procession.
Protestor Bill Dobbs called the New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade "A public event known worldwide for its bigotry." He lauded the City Council's absence as unprecedented, but criticized Police Commissioner Bill Bratton for giving the NYPD permission to march in the parade. "[The parade council] have their First Amendment rights but should the police department participate? No. They're off-duty but being in uniform gives the idea of an official endorsement," Dobbs said.
Mayor de Blasio isn't the first mayor to boycott the parade because of its policy toward LGBTQ groups. David Dinkins boycotted the event in 1993, after the parade's sponsors won a long legal battle to exclude a group of openly gay participants. Irish Queers member Eustacia Smith, who has been picketing the parade for over 20 years, said protests in the early '90s were much larger, with "hundreds" demonstrating with the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (ILGO). Mayor Dinkins marched with ILGO in the 1991 parade and was met with jeers and flying beer cans from the crowd.
When asked about de Blasio's boycott, Smith said, "It's what we need. I wouldn't expect anything less." However, she also argued that the presence of the NYPD is "the same as the city's approval. They shouldn't march in uniform."
Though activists and city officials pressured de Blasio to prohibit public workers from marching in uniform, the mayor recently said, "Uniformed city workers have a right to participate if they choose to, and I respect that right."