Brooklyn court officers celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, sponsors withdraw from big parade

March 17, 2014 By Charisma Miller, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Adhering to a 20-year tradition, Brooklyn court officers donned green ties, and some pulled their bagpipes out of retirement as the group gathered to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this past Friday.  

Following a noon Mass at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Brooklyn Heights, the officers and parade attendees marched to the courtyard of Brooklyn’s Supreme Court at 360 Adams St., playing Irish folk songs with drums and bagpipes.

Hosting as the parade’s grand marshal was Dennis W. Quirk, president of the New York State Court Officers Association (NYSCOA). Quirk, of deep Irish heritage and longstanding Brooklyn roots, recently led the NYSCOA through a lawsuit with a bulletproof vest vendor, charging that the contractor provided inadequate vests for officers servicing one of the highest trafficked court in New York State.

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While Brooklyn sought the “luck of the Irish,” New York City’s prominent St. Patrick’s Day Parade faced significant controversy. Major sponsors have withdrawn their support of the parade that barrels up Fifth Avenue every March 17, and, for the first time in more than 20 years, the mayor of New York City will boycott the parade.

Beer companies Sam Adams, Heineken and the maker of the quintessential Irish beer, Guinness, have pulled their support and sponsorship for NYC’s and Boston’s parades of green. The decision comes after parade committees affirmatively denied the participation of the LGBT community in parade festivities.

Irish LGBT members requested inclusion only to be denied the opportunity to express appreciation of their Irish heritage while simultaneously acknowledging their sexual preference.  

According to groups such as Irish Queers, parade committees in New York would allow members of the LGBT community to march in Monday’s parade so long as they do so without any signage identifying their sexual orientation or their connection to the LGBT community.  

“At a time when we are horrified by laws in Arizona and elsewhere that would deny public services to LGBTQ people, it’s particularly ironic that NYC would allow its police and firefighters to march in a parade that’s so notoriously homophobic,” said Alan Levine, attorney for Irish Queers.

The battle for inclusion began in 1992 when the New York City Human Rights Commission ruled that as a secular non-religious parade, parade organizers could not discriminate. Organizers challenged this ruling, and a 1993 federal court upheld New York’s parade organizers’ right to refuse participation of persons who chose to march under a gay rights banner.

The surviving legal argument being that the although the parade is permitted by city agencies, the parade itself is run by private organizations who are not held to the same anti-discrimination standard as state governments.  

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down the ultimate ruling on the matter, holding in 1995 that Boston parade organizers had the right to exclude homosexuals.

“The parade organizers claim a right to discriminate, in private, in order to get around the Human Rights Commission’s anti-discrimination ruling,” noted J.F. Mulligan of Irish Queers. “The homophobic bigotry of this parade is reaffirmed each year by the organizers.”

Beer companies expressed the same sentiment. “We believe in equality for all. We are no longer a sponsor of Monday’s parade,” beer manufacturer Heineken said in a released statement. Guinness, with a “strong history of supporting diversity and being an advocate for equality for all,” announced its sponsorship withdrawal and its hope “to work with community leaders to ensure that future parades have an inclusionary policy.”

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