By Elizabeth Barber
BOSTON, March 16 Irish brewer Guinness said on
Sunday that it would not participate in New York City's St.
Patrick's Day parade this year because gay and lesbian groups
had been excluded, costing organizers a key sponsor of the
The move came on the same day that Boston's Irish-American
mayor skipped that city's St. Patrick's Day parade after failing
to hammer out a deal with organizers to allow a group of gay and
lesbian activists to march openly.
"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,"
the brewer said in a written statement issued by a spokesman for
its parent company, Diageo.
"As this has not come to pass, Guinness has withdrawn its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 been
again precluded from taking part.
The loss of Guinness, one of the world's top beer brands
originating in Dublin, Ireland, appeared to ratchet up the
pressure on organizers even further.
On Friday, two other major beer companies, Sam Adams brewer
Boston Beer Co and Heineken dropped their
sponsorship of 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.
Earlier in the day Boston Mayor Marty Walsh skipped his
city's parade when he couldn't negotiate a deal with organizers,
the conservative Allied War Veteran's Council, to allow members
of MassEquality, one of Massachusetts' largest gay activist
groups, to join.
"So much of our Irish history has been shaped by the fight
against oppression," Walsh, the city's first Irish-American
mayor in 20 years, said in a statement.
"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. Unfortunately, this year, the parties
were not able to come to an understanding that would have made
Despite Walsh's boycott, other prominent Democratic Boston
politicians, including Representative Stephen Lynch, marched in
the parade, which drew tens of thousands of spectators, some of
whom expressed disappointment at MassEquality's exclusion.
"It's supposed to be a time when everyone can come
together," said university student Jeyashri Sridhar, 18. "It's
sad that people can't participate because of who they are."
Organizers of St. Patrick's Day parades in New York and
Boston, among the most liberal-leaning cities in the United
States, have come under increasing criticism in recent years for
banning openly gay marchers.
Parade organizers 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, the parade was not
without gay marchers.
South Boston resident Randy Foster, along with his husband
Steve Martin, organized 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 OK with it and so
are the parade organizers," 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 U.S. state to
legalize 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.