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Gay issue back to haunt parade

By Irish Echo Staff

Irish gay right activists are requesting that uniformed New York police officers do not march in the 2011 New York St. Patrick's Day Parade, this on the heels of a report that Irish President Mary McAleese has turned down the parade committee's offer of the grand marshal's sash for what will be the landmark 250th parade.

The New York City-based Irish Queers made the request to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly following the report in the Irish Voice that McAleese would not accept the invitation of parade organizers to be grand marshal, this because of the parade committee's continued refusal to allow Irish gays to march under their own banner.

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Gay people are not barred from the parade as individuals, but groups advocating gay rights have been denied entry to the parade line of march since the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization first attempted to march in the parade in the early 1990s.

"The NYC group Irish Queers today asked NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly to pull uniformed police officers from the anti-gay St. Patrick's Day parade. In a letter to the Commissioner, the group charges that police participation is an endorsement of homophobia and a violation of LGBT communities' right to expect equal access to police services," Irish Queers said in a statement.

"The Irish Queers request comes on the same day as news of Irish President Mary McAleese's decision to skip the parade, viewed in Irish-American political circles as a refusal to endorse the parade's discriminatory message," the statement added.

And it continued: "The St. Patrick's parade organizers have asserted the right to exclude LGBT people on the grounds of free speech, and have repeatedly affirmed that the parade has an explicitly anti-gay message.

"Each year, thousands of uniformed NYPD and city officers march in the parade, comprising more than a dozen contingents. Other city uniformed personnel marching in an official capacity include the Fire Department and Emergency Services.

"Parade organizers have long touted the parade as 'a private religious procession' as a basis for excluding LGBT Irish groups, but have counted on strong participation from the city and its representatives."