Guinness calls time on St Patrick’s Day parade in New York over gay ban

Irish brewer and the mayors of New York and Boston snub St Patrick's Day rallies because gay activists are excluded from the festivities

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 9:20pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 9:20pm

Irish brewer Guinness pulled out of New York's St Patrick's Day parade because gay and lesbian groups were excluded.

It was the same reason given by the mayors of both New York and Boston for their decision not to march.

In a statement issued by its parent company Diageo, the brewer said: "Guinness has a strong history of supporting diversity and being an advocate for equality for all.

"We were hopeful that the policy of exclusion would be reversed for this year's parade.

"As this has not come to pass, Guinness has withdrawn its participation. We will continue to work with community leaders to ensure that future parades have an inclusionary policy."

Last week, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would not march in the parade because gay and lesbian activists had again been precluded from taking part.

Boston's Irish-American mayor, Marty Walsh, skipped the city's parade on Sunday after failing to agree a deal with organisers to allow a group of gay and lesbian activists to march openly.

The Allied War Veteran's Council, which organised the Boston march, refused to allow members of MassEquality, one of Massachusetts' largest gay activist groups, to join in.

Walsh, the city's first Irish-American mayor in 20 years, said: "So much of our Irish history has been shaped by the fight against oppression.

"As mayor 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."

On Friday, two other major companies, Sam Adams brewer Boston Beer Co and Heineken, dropped their sponsorship of the parades in Boston and New York, respectively, over the issue.

Representatives for the New York board of the Ancient Order of the Hibernians, which has run the parade for more than 150 years, could not be reached for comment on Sunday afternoon.

Organisers of parades in New York and Boston, which are among the most liberal-leaning cities in the US, have come under increasing criticism for banning openly gay marchers.

Parade organisers argue that to do so would conflict with their Roman Catholic heritage.

The Catholic Church contends that homosexual activity is immoral.

While MassEquality did not participate in Boston, the parade was not without gay marchers.

South Boston resident Randy Foster, along with his husband Steve Martin, organised a diversity-themed float that sported rainbow flags but no direct gay rights messages.

Foster said the flags represented the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in Irish lore, though he acknowledged the gay rights movement uses a rainbow flag.

"If there's a dual message to it, we're okay with it and so are the parade organisers," said Foster, 48. "We made the point of not making it a gay float. If we're going to have a message of inclusion, it shouldn't be for one group."

Massachusetts in 2003 became the first US state to legalise gay marriage. Attitudes on gay marriage have changed markedly across the nation since then, with 17 states and the District of Columbia now allowing same-sex couples to wed.