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Anti-gay rule to keep de Blasio from biggest NYC St. Pat’s parade

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will not be marching in the nation’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade, deciding to skip one of his city’s signature celebrations because the event organizers refuse to let participants carry pro-gay signs.

De Blasio will become the first New York City mayor in decades to sit out the traditional march along Fifth Avenue.

“I will be participating in a number of other events to honor the Irish heritage of this city,” said de Blasio on Tuesday during an unrelated press conference at City Hall. “But I simply disagree with the organizers of that parade.”

The parade, a tradition that predates the city itself, draws more than 1 million people each March 17 to line one of Manhattan’s most famous thoroughfares to watch about 200,000 participants. It has long been a mandatory stop on the city’s political trail, and will include marching bands, traditional Irish dancers and thousands of uniformed city workers.

Since the 1990s, the event’s ban on pro-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 Queens. In recent years, several elected officials – including de Blasio when he was 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. Rudolph Giuliani also participated every year he was mayor.

The parade dates from 1762, more than a century before the 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. Groups, such as colleges or firefighter groups that march, can identify themselves but LGBT groups cannot.

A request for comment from the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade committee was not immediately returned. Organizers have previously said that the event is simply a celebration of the city’s strong Irish heritage and that gays are welcome to march in the parade as long as they do not carry identifying signs or banners.

The president of the city’s Catholic League said that to his knowledge this was the first time a sitting mayor had boycotted the parade.

“Personally, I am delighted,” said Bill Donohue. “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.”

De Blasio was raised Catholic but has said he does not belong to any church.

The mayor, a Democrat, also said Tuesday that he won’t heed activists’ call to ban city workers from marching while wearing their uniforms.

Several elected officials, including Public Advocate Letitia James, signed a petition released Tuesday that suggested that because members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community could not sport anything to identify themselves, the city workers should also not wear anything to proclaim who they are.

“I believe uniformed city workers have a right to participate if they choose to, and I respect that right,” de Blasio said.

Thousands of uniformed workers – from the police, fire, corrections and sanitation departments – march in the parade every year. The parade’s grand marshal this year is Jack Ahearn, the head of a local operating engineers union.

Marriage equality leader Edith Windsor to lead New York City Pride

Edith Windsor, the widow challenging the Defense of Marriage Act before the U.S. Supreme Court, will serve as a grand marshal of the 44th annual New York City LGBT Pride Parade.

She’ll lead the event, one of the largest gay events in the country, with two other grand marshal – Harry Belafonte and Earl Fowlkes.

Belafonte has been a longtime advocate for equality, as has Fowlkes, who is the president and CEO of the Center for Black Equity.

Chris Frederick of NYC Pride said in a news release, “We believe this year will be historic. LGBT rights are expanding across the country and these individuals embody the soul of a movement far from over. They are tirelessly fighting for all of us. They are the great waves in a sea of hope: Edith’s never-ending battle for marriage equality, Harry’s unending fight for human rights, Earl’s focused leadership and selfless spirit. So with great pride, we congratulate them and honor them for their unwavering dedication to the idea of a more just and verdant future for all peoples.”

NYC Pride march director Mike Dunlap added, “This year’s grand marshals have enriched the LGBT community through their dedication, accomplishments and commitment to the LGBT civil rights movement. By recognizing Edith Windsor’s historic court case, Harry Belafonte’s trailblazing activism and Earl Fowlkes’ outstanding LGBT leadership, we hope to inspire further action in attaining worldwide equality.”

The grand marshals will lead the parade from Midtown along Fifth Avenue to the West Village along Christopher Street.

The parade takes place June 30.

The Supreme Court is expected to release its decision in the Proposition 8 and DOMA cases at about that time.

On the Web…


Christine Quinn to skip St. Patrick’s Day parade that excludes Pride messages

She’s a leading candidate to be New York’s next mayor. She’s already one of its top Irish-American officials.

Christine Quinn is also a lesbian and proud of it. And that’s why the city council speaker won’t be marching in today’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, an event so entrenched in New York tradition that it’s older than the United States.

Quinn’s rising political prominence is bringing a decades-long dispute between parade organizers and gay activists back into sharp relief. And it’s raising the prospect of an unprecedented standoff next year if she wins November’s election and becomes the city’s first openly gay and first female mayor.

Quinn, a granddaughter of Irish immigrants, says she’s both saddened and mystified that the parade continues to bar marchers from displaying any gay-pride messages, a policy that has spurred protests and litigation going back to the 1990s. It has even prompted the launch of an alternative, gay-friendly St. Patrick’s parade.

“I’ve marched in Dublin (in its St. Patrick’s Day parade) with visibly identifiable stickers and buttons that made clear we were both Irish and LGBT,” she said this week. “If you can do that in Dublin, in God’s name, why can’t you do it on Fifth Avenue?”

Organizers say signs or buttons celebrating being gay would detract from the parade’s focus on honoring Irish heritage. But gay people do march in the parade and are welcome, said Hilary Beirne, the parade’s executive secretary.

“It’s a shame that an issue is made of something that really is a non-issue,” he said in an email message.

Dating to 1762, the parade has become a customary link in the city’s political trail. This year’s grand marshal is a scion of the Irish-American political pantheon: Alfred E. Smith IV, whose great-grandfather and namesake was a four-time New York governor and a presidential candidate.

Irish gay advocates sued in the early 1990s, after parade organizers refused to let them march with an identifying banner. Judges said the organizers had a First Amendment right to choose participants in their event. In the years since, gay activists have protested along the parade route.

Quinn, a former director of a gay and lesbian advocacy group, has never marched in the Fifth Avenue parade in her official capacity, although she attended it as a child, according to her office. She was elected to the City Council in 1999.

Her schedule for today hasn’t been set. She’s due next week to host the council’s own tribute to Irish culture, with honorees including actor Liam Neeson.

Democratic mayoral candidates Sal Albanese, a former councilman; Public Advocate Bill de Blasio; and Comptroller John Liu also are boycotting the parade over its policy toward gay marchers. Former Comptroller Bill Thompson’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry on the issue.

Some Republican mayoral hopefuls will be in the ranks, including former Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Joseph Lhota and George McDonald, who heads an organization that helps the homeless. Both candidates have some Irish forebears, aides said.

“As he does every year, George McDonald is proud to celebrate his Irish heritage and the great tradition that is the NYC St. Patrick’s Day parade,” spokesman David Catalfamo said. Aides to Republican candidates Tom Allon and John Catsimatidis didn’t immediately respond to inquiries.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg also is due to participate, though he has said the organizers should change their stance on gay marchers.

“My job as mayor nevertheless is to attend these parades, and I will continue to attend them – at the same time, while I am working as hard as I can to get the parade organizers to change,” he said in 2011 .

Bloomberg, Quinn and other officials have become regulars at the St. Pat’s For All parade, which happens in Queens and began in 2000 as an inclusive answer to the Fifth Avenue procession. About 2,000 people marched in this year’s St. Pat’s For All, founder Brendan Fay said.

“We’re redefining the meaning of Irishness,” said Fay, a documentary filmmaker who grew up Drogheda, an Irish port town about 35 miles north of Dublin.

Quinn said she’d be proud if her role in government helped resolve the dispute over the Fifth Avenue parade someday.

“To me, it is a very sad thing that so many other issues around LGBT issues – so many other complicated, complex, emotional issues – we have been able to make progress on … but we are not able to come to a resolution on this,” said Quinn, who married her longtime partner last year after lobbying to legalize gay marriage in the state.

“But I have to believe that sooner rather than later, we will be able to put this issue behind us.”