U.S. News

N.Y. official wants gays in St Patrick's Day parade

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York’s lesbian City Council speaker said on Tuesday she wants to include gays and people from Northern Ireland in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, a proposal sure to meet opposition from the parade’s Irish-Catholic organizers.

Christine Quinn also welcomed a proposal to invite two leading rivals in the Northern Ireland divide -- Protestant cleric Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness -- to lead this year’s parade as a way to celebrate their recent political agreement.

The New York parade, billed as the largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world, has long been a lightning rod for controversy because of the refusal of its organizers, The Ancient Order of Hibernians, to include gays and lesbians and non-Catholics.

“The truth is, the parade is stuck, and it’s stuck and mired in a controversy that takes away from what the parade has been and what the parade could be,” Quinn told New York public radio’s “Brian Lehrer Show” on Tuesday.

Representatives of the order could not be reached for comment.

Quinn, an Irish-American, is the city’s top-ranking openly gay official and may run for mayor in 2009. Last year she refused to march, instead participating in Dublin’s parade.

The New York parade, which will be held on March 17, is a private event, so Quinn has no authority as a city official to decide who can attend.

Paisley and McGuinness brokered a power-sharing agreement that brought together Northern Ireland’s Protestants and Roman Catholics into the same provincial government in May, helping bring stability to the British province. A 1998 peace deal ended 30 years of sectarian conflict that killed 3,600 people.

The idea to invite Paisley and McGuinness was floated by Niall O’Dowd, founder of the New York-based Irish Voice newspaper, and Quinn said it was “absolutely worth exploring.”

Last year, the parade’s longtime chairman, John Dunleavy, provoked an outcry when he compared the exclusion of gays and lesbians to blocking Nazi marchers from an Israeli parade or the Ku Klux Klan from an African-American parade.