Parades March on as Guinness Opts Out of St. Patrick's Day Celebrations

Ford is last major sponsor as others back out amid gay rights tensions.

ByABC News
March 17, 2014, 10:22 AM

Mar. 17, 2014— -- St. Patrick’s Day celebrations kicked off across the country this morning, but New York City’s festivities went ahead with the notable absence of iconic Irish beer maker Guinness, which withdrew its sponsorship from the parade.

Controversy has swirled around this year’s Irish holiday festivities in the Northeast, where a number of key sponsors have opted out after organizers barred LGBT participants from openly marching and carrying pro-gay signs.

Guinness, which had been the last remaining major beer sponsor to hold out, announced this weekend that it was pulling out of its sponsorship deal, saying:

“Guinness has a strong history of supporting diversity and being an advocate for equality for all. We were hopeful that the policy of exclusion would be reversed for this year’s parade. As this has not come to pass, Guinness has withdrawn its participation. We will continue to work with community leaders to ensure that future parades have an inclusionary policy.”

The move came after Boston Beer Co., which owns the Sam Adams brand, cut ties with the Boston parade and Heineken announced Friday it would also withdraw support.

The Stonewall Inn in New York, considered the seeding ground for the gay rights movement in the United States, had made the decision to take Guinness off the shelf, but said it would proudly put the stout back on tap in the tavern after the brewery’s announcement.

Political tensions have been building in New York since Mayor Bill de Blasio chose to become the first mayor in decades to shun the parade over gay rights issues, while Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh declared he would not partake in his city's Irish day celebrations Sunday for the same reason.

The decision by the companies to withdraw participation from the parades drew strong support from gay rights advocacy groups including New York City-based organization Irish Queers and GLAAD.

"Guinness sent a strong message to its customers and employees: discrimination should never be celebrated," GLAAD CEO & President Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement Sunday. "As a gay mom who has fond memories of the New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade, it saddens me that I can't give those same memories to my own kids because my family isn't welcome.

Ford Motor Co. remains the last major U.S. sponsor involved in the parades, according to GLAAD.

The vehicle manufacturer said in statement it is involved in a range of events and organizations as well as the parade.

"No one person, group or event reflects Ford’s views on every issue. What we can tell you is that Ford is proud of its inclusive policies," the statement read. "Every member of the Ford team is valued, and we provide employee benefits regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation."

The organizers of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City did not responded to ABC News’ request for comment today.

The AP contributed to this report.