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Kevin Cullen

Older parade, same problem in New York City

Revelers lined the route of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York Citry in 2009.AP File/Associated Press

NEW YORK — So Marty Walsh, God love ’im, is going to make one last-ditch effort to hammer out a compromise so gay people can march openly in Sunday’s parade in Southie.

As they say in the Irish-speaking Gaeltacht, from where Marty’s parents are from, “Beir bua agus beannacht.” Look it up.

Down here in New York, where its St. Patrick’s Day parade is older than the Declaration of Independence and lasts anywhere from six to seven hours, there’s the same standoff, with organizers refusing to let gay people march with banners that identify themselves as gay.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, as the Irish say, couldn’t be arsed when it comes to forging compromise. He boycotted the parade when he was the city’s public advocate. He’s not going to start marching now.


De Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, of the Medford Bloombergs, marched in the parade but de Blasio is about as different from Bloomberg as the Irish are from Irish-Americans.

De Blasio, who grew up in Cambridge, is married to a black woman and has biracial kids, so he’s not really into exclusion. But neither is he into cozying up to the New York Irish, who were in the corner of de Blasio’s primary opponent, Christine Quinn, who was the city council president.

The irony in this — and it wouldn’t be Irish if there weren’t irony — is that Quinn is openly gay. Which means, even when she led the city council delegation in the parade she wasn’t allowed to identify herself as being gay.

So the New York Irish wanted to elect an openly gay mayor but wouldn’t let her march in the parade as openly gay.

And people in New York think we’re nuts?

From the get-go, de Blasio said he wanted to get rid of the city’s horse-drawn carriages, saying it was cruel to use horses like that. Since most of the people involved in that business are Irish-born or Irish-American, de Blasio’s plan was seen by the Irish as an ethnically-aimed whack.


Liam Neeson, the actor and Irishman who lives near Central Park, was among those who went to the defense of the horse folks, but his pleas have fallen on deaf ears at Gracie Mansion.

“It’s broadly the same issue in New York and Boston when it comes to the parade,” Ray O’Hanlon, the editor of the Irish Echo, said sitting in his Midtown office. “The crucial difference is Marty Walsh. He’s very engaged. The parade guys in Boston might not go along with him, but they can’t ignore Marty Walsh.”

It’s not just Bill de Blasio ignoring the parade organizers here. The parade organizers are ignoring him and just about everybody, keeping their heads down. They rarely engage. The dispute over gay people marching openly has been going on for more than 20 years and a lot of people seem bored with it.

That said, O’Hanlon said more politicians seem to be boycotting it this year than before. The other difference is that, unlike MassEquality, which has been actively trying to get into the Southie parade, the most organized Irish gay group in New York has melted away. A much smaller group that calls itself Irish Queers is still kicking around, but nobody thinks a compromise would include letting an “Irish Queers” banner march past St. Patrick’s Cathedral.


Niall O’Dowd, who runs the IrishCentral website, gives Walsh huge props compared with de Blasio. At least, he says, Walsh is trying.

So far, de Blasio has resisted pressure from some council members and activists to bar police officers and firefighters from marching in uniform. O’Hanlon said de Blasio is wise to avoid that confrontation.

“If he told them they couldn’t march in uniform,” O’Hanlon said, “I think the cops and firefighters would absolutely show up in uniform.”

At which point, New York’s finest and bravest, from the NYPD and the FDNY, would offer their mayor a Bronx cheer and a Brooklyn salute, the latter of which requires only one finger.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.