City Council joins St. Patrick's parade boycott

Members of the New York City Fire Department's

Members of the New York City Fire Department's Emerald Society Pipes and Drums make their way up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan as they take part in the St. Patrick's Day Parade on March 16, 2013. (Credit: AP)

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced Tuesday that the Council will join Mayor Bill de Blasio in skipping the St. Patrick's Day parade because LGBT groups are banned from participating.

While individual Council members are free to march on their own, there will be no Council presence, banner or sergeant-at-arms. It is the first time the City Council has officially opted out of the annual event.

"This City Council is committed to celebrating and respecting the diversity of New York City and that is why we've decided to not participate in the parade," Mark-Viverito said in a statement.

Earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he wouldn't march in the March 17 parade because of its policies, which also bar any expression or symbol of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. The last mayor to not march was David Dinkins.

De Blasio has rejected calls to ban city employees, such as police officers and firefighters, from marching in uniform, calling their decisions "a matter of their right to free speech and free expression" at an unrelated news conference Tuesday.

The nonprofit group that organizes the parade didn't return messages for comment.

Glennda Testone, the executive director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in Greenwich Village, said the boycotts could increase pressure on the organizers to end the ban.Nineteen Council members publicly stated that they would not march. Councilman Mark Levine (D-Manhattan) said, "These parades take place in public spaces and should be a welcoming activity to all."

Twenty-six Council members did not return messages from amNewYork for comment. Two -- Democrats Peter Koo of Flushing and Vanessa L. Gibson of the Bronx -- declined to comment. A staff member of Councilman Steven Matteo, a Staten Island Republican, said he is currently still planning to attend the parade.

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights blasted Mark-Viverito for her decision. "When a government agent prohibits the celebration of St. Patrick's Day . . . it is an obscene exercise in censorship," he said in a statement. He added that gays can march in the parade, "just so long as they blend in like everyone else."

Democratic Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, who is openly gay, said many members will march Sunday in the St. Pat's for All parade in Sunnyside, Queens, which welcomes all participants.

With Michael Wang and Ben Wolford

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