Members of the Emerald Society, an organization of Irish-American police, march in the St. Patrick's Day Parade. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday he would not ban city workers from marching in uniform, but will not attend himself because he disagrees with the parade organizers' stance on LGBT groups participating. Credit: Getty Images
Advocates are increasing pressure on the St. Patrick's Day Parade this year for having what they believe is an "anti-gay message."
Dozens of civil rights groups and elected officials, including Public Advocate Letitia James and three former Human Rights commissioners, signed a letter asking Mayor Bill de Blasio to ban uniformed city personnel from marching in the parade.
"The presence of uniformed police and firefighters in such a procession sends a clear signal to LGBTQ New Yorkers that these personnel, who are charged with serving and protecting all New Yorkers, do not respect the lives or safety of LGBT people," reads the letter, published Monday in the Gay City News.
The Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization sought to march in the popular parade more than two decades ago, but a federal judge ruled in 1993 that the city could not force the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which runs the event, to allow a group opposing the organization's religious message to participate.
Though gays are welcome to walk in the procession, they cannot identify themselves by sexual orientation.
Opposing this stance, de Blasio did not participate in last year's parade and doesn't plan to attend this year.
"I will be participating in a number of other events to honor the Irish heritage of this city, but I simply disagree with the organizers of that parade," de Blasio said Tuesday.
His absence marks a change from previous mayors' involvement. Former mayors Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani marched in the parade, joining large groups of uniformed firefighters and police officers.
Despite his own position, de Blasio said city workers have a "right" to march in uniform.
"I believe that uniformed city workers have a right to participate if they choose to. And I respect that right," the mayor said.
Parade organizers did not immediately return a request for comment. But Bill Donohue, head of the the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said he was "delighted" the mayor wasn't marching.
"I do not want to march with a public official who does not want to be associated with Irish Catholics," Donohue said in a statement.
Donohue added that the parade doesn't allow both pro-gay and pro-life signs.
"The parade is not about homosexuals, or abortion, or anything other than honoring St. Patrick," he said.