NEW YORK — Christine Quinn, a leading candidate to be New York’s next mayor, is also a lesbian and proud of it. And that is why the City Council speaker will not be marching in Saturday’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, an event so entrenched in New York tradition that it is older than the United States.
Quinn’s rising political prominence is bringing a decades-long dispute between parade organizers and gay activists back into sharp relief. And it is raising the prospect of an unprecedented standoff next year if she wins November’s election and becomes the city’s first openly gay and first female mayor.
Quinn, a granddaughter of Irish immigrants, is saddened and mystified that the parade continues to bar marchers from displaying any gay-pride messages, a policy that has spurred protests and litigation going back to the 1990s. It has even prompted the launch of an alternative, gay-friendly Saint Patrick’s parade.
‘‘I’ve marched in Dublin with visibly identifiable stickers and buttons that made clear we were both Irish and LGBT,’’ she said this week, using the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. ‘‘If you can do that in Dublin, in God’s name, why can’t you do it on Fifth Avenue?’’
Organizers say signs or buttons celebrating being gay would detract from the parade’s focus on honoring Irish heritage. But gay people do march and are welcome, said Hilary Beirne, the parade’s executive secretary.
‘‘It’s a shame that an issue is made of something that really is a nonissue,’’ he said in an e-mail message.
Dating to 1762, the parade has become a customary link in the city’s political trail.
Irish gay advocates sued in the early 1990s, after parade organizers refused to let them march with an identifying banner. Judges said the organizers had a First Amendment right to choose participants in their event. In the years since, gay activists have protested along the parade route.
Democratic mayoral candidates Sal Albanese, Bill de Blasio, and John Liu also are boycotting the parade over its policy toward gay marchers.