In the tradition of St. Patrick’s Day, many cities will be celebrating the Irish heritage of their citizens in a flood of green, surrounded by the aroma of corned beef and cabbage and washing everything down with a pint of Guinness.
New York and Boston mayors Bill de Blasio and Martin Walsh, however, decided to sit this one out in solidarity with LGBT groups.
In the city with the largest Irish American population in the U.S. (20.4 percent), Boston’s parade has been in a battle for decades over allowing gay groups to join in the festivities. In 1990, the state court forced the parade organizers to allow the groups to march, but in 1994 the organizers decided to cancel the parade altogether rather than allow LGBT persons to participate. In 1995 the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that the organizers are protected under First Amendment rights to exclude any groups they want, considering the parade is privately funded.
Walsh threatened to boycott yesterday’s parade and even attempted to broker a deal between the organizers and MassEquality, Massachusetts’ LGBT advocacy group. The parade organizers agreed to allow LGBT groups to march; however, they insisted that group members couldn’t outwardly display their sexual orientation (what a compromise!). MassEquality stood strong and refused the deal saying, “LGBT people should not have to silence who they are to celebrate other parts of their identities.”
When a deal could not be reached, Walsh, the son of Irish immigrants, stayed true to his boycott, inspiring other prominent Bostonians to follow his lead. Walsh said of his decision to not participate:
As Mayor of the city of Boston, I have to do my best to ensure that all Bostonians are free to participate fully in the civic life of our city.
Bars even began to boycott Samuel Adams, a beer produced by the company Boston Beers, due to its parade sponsorship. The company promptly revoked the sponsorship.
Meanwhile, in New York City, de Blasio has been threatening since February to boycott the St. Paddy’s Day parade on Fifth Avenue. Guinness and Heineken also pulled their sponsorship of the parade, the largest of its kind in the world. De Blasio is the first New York mayor in 20 years to not participate in the parade, explaining,
I simply disagree with the organizers of that parade in their exclusion of some individuals in this city. I will be participating in a number of other events to honor the Irish heritage of this city and the contributions of Irish-Americans.
In the 253-year history of the parade, this will be the first time the mayor and city council will not be attending. Said New York City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, “This is a parade organization that refuses to catch up with the times.”