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St. Pat's parades proceed amid tension over gays

NEW YORK — A weekend of St. Patrick's Day revelry and tensions over the exclusion of gays in some of the celebrations was culminating Monday in New York, where Guinness beer and the city's new mayor planned to sit out the world's largest parade celebrating Irish heritage.

Mayor Bill de Blasio held the traditional St. Patrick's Day breakfast at Gracie Mansion with the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, but planned to boycott the parade, which doesn't allow expressions of gay identity. Boston's new mayor, Martin Walsh, also opted out of that city's parade Sunday after talks broke down that would have allowed a gay veterans group to march.

For the second year running, Dublin's major parade was including 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.

While New York's Irish, their descendants and the Irish for a day planned to revel in the celebration of culture on Monday, de Blasio's decision to skip the parade underscores lingering political tensions over gay rights issues in the United States. Kenny, however, refused to be sidelined, saying he'd join the procession Monday in Manhattan because the holiday is about Irishness, not sexuality.

De Blasio, in one of the first major events that Gracie Mansion has hosted under the new mayor, addressed several hundred people at the breakfast, many of Irish descent.

Sporting a green tie, de Blasio, who is not Irish, recalled his roots growing up in Massachusetts, living in congressional district once represented by Irish-American political greats John F. Kennedy and Tip O'Neill. "I also grew up in an atmosphere so rich in Irish culture," the mayor said.

He called Irish immigrants a "foundational" part of what made New York what it is today. He concluded with a toast, saying "in this city of immigrants we never forget where we came from."

In Boston, thousands of green-clad spectators came out to watch bagpipers and marchers on Sunday, and organizers of a float intended to promote diversity threw Mardi Gras-type beads to onlookers. A similar scene played out in downtown Philadelphia.

In Michigan, parades were Sunday held in Bay City and Detroit, and on Monday, a St. Patrick's Day Parade was scheduled in Cleveland. Cities from Savannah, Ga., to Montreal also hosted festivities over the weekend, and throughout the world, landmarks were bathed in green floodlights.

Kenny, Ireland's head of government, on Sunday became the first Irish prime minister to attend Boston's annual St. Patrick's Day breakfast. He has resisted pressure, in both Ireland and America, to support the gay rights lobby's demand to have equal rights to participate in parades on St. Patrick's Day.

"The St. Patrick's Day parade (in New York) is a parade about our Irishness and not about sexuality, and I would be happy to participate in it," Kenny said in Dublin before leaving for a six-day trip to the U.S.

In Ireland, St. Patrick's Day provides the launch of the country's annual push for tourism, a big part of the rural economy. Virtually the entire Irish government left the Emerald Isle for the holiday. Of the government's 28 ministers, 27 are overseas, seeking to boost economic and cultural ties from Beijing to Buenos Aires.

"To Irish people by birth or descent, wherever they may be in the world, and to those who simply consider themselves to be friends of Ireland, I wish each and every one of you a happy, peaceful and authentically Irish St. Patrick's Day," Irish President Michael D. Higgins, the ceremonial head of state and guest of honor at Monday's parade in Dublin, said in a statement.

Parade organizers in New York have said gay groups are not prohibited from marching, but are not allowed to carry gay-friendly signs or identify themselves as LGBT.

Some LGBT groups were to protest the parade along the parade route on Fifth Avenue on Monday. Others had planned to dump Guinness beer from the shelves of the Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the gay rights movement, in protest of the brewer's plan to sponsor the parade, but that demonstration was canceled late Sunday after Guinness said in a statement that it had dropped its sponsorship.

Other beer companies joined the boycotts earlier, with Sam Adams withdrawing its sponsorship of Boston's parade and Heineken following suit in New York.

New York's parade, a tradition that predates the city itself, draws more than 1 million spectators and about 200,000 participants every March 17. It has long been a mandatory stop on the city's political trail, and includes marching bands, traditional Irish dancers and thousands of uniformed city workers.

St. Pat's parades proceed amid tension over gays 03/17/14 [Last modified: Monday, March 17, 2014 10:40am]
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