Despite Luck of the Irish, Guinness, Heineken and Sam Adams Drop Sponsorship of Anti-LGBT St Patrick’s Parades

In a surprise turn of events, Guinness announced on Sunday that it will be pulling sponsorship from New York’s St Patrick’s Day parade on Monday, in support of LGBT groups. It joins Heineken and Sam Adams, who had earlier pulled their sponsorship from New York and Boston parades respectively.

The controversy this year began when organizers of South Boston’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade once again refused to allow an LGBT group to openly walk and carry pride symbols in the parade. In a powerful open letter, the LGBT veterans  associated with MassEquality said,

We write first and foremost, to reject allegations made by the Allied War Veterans Council that we do not exist. … In 2010, the United States Congress repealed the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, finally allowing lesbian, gay and bisexual service members to serve this country openly and with pride. We sought only to march with integrity behind the colors that represent our multi-faceted identities as veterans, LGBT people and, for some of us, as Irish-Americans. But we fought too long and too hard to be able to serve our country openly to retreat back into the closet in order to march in a parade. As we have stood shoulder to shoulder, in war and in peace, we would stand together again marching as a symbol of the freedom that we offered our lives for, a freedom for all people, of all colors, creeds, origins, sexual orientations and gender identities.

Although the struggle has played out unfavorably for 20 years now, this time, South Boston’s Club Cafe announced that they would no longer serve Sam Adams due to the brewers association with the parade. To the surprise of many, Boston Beer (parent company of Sam Adams) responded by pulling their sponsorship of the event after nearly a decade. “Our namesake, Samuel Adams, was a staunch defender of free speech and we support that ideal, so we take feedback very seriously,” said the company.

Spectators react to the Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston during their appearance in the 1993 South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade. Subsequently, theSupremeCourt recognized the organizers' right to exclude groups. Photo by John Mottern/AFP/Getty Images via Slate.

Spectators react to the Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston during their appearance in the 1993 South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Subsequently, the Supreme Court recognized the organizers’ right to exclude groups. Photo by John Mottern/AFP/Getty Images via Slate.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh also threw his support behind the LGBT veterans, saying, “The St. Patrick’s Day parade was born out of the celebration of Evacuation Day, a day set aside to recognize and honor our military and those brave Americans who have banded together for the sake of freedom. And so much of our Irish history has been shaped by the fight against oppression.” Welsh personally intervened to try and negotiate a deal to let the LGBT veterans walk in the parade; when organizers failed to budge, he announced that he would not be attending the parade on Sunday.

Similarly, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio will also be sitting out his city’s parade today. The Ancient Order of Hibernians, the organizers of the oldest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the United States, have a longstanding policy of banning LGBT groups from marching. But this year, it just isn’t going to fly.

Shortly after Sam Adams’ decision on Friday, Heineken dropped its sponsorship of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade, saying, “We believe in equality for all.” On Sunday, the Stonewall Inn and other NYC bars announced that they would be starting a boycott against Guinness Beer over the company’s decision to maintain its sponsorship of the parade. Mere hours later, Guinness announced that it would be pulling its support. (“Guinness has a strong history of supporting diversity and being an advocate for equality for all. … We will continue to work with community leaders to ensure that future parades have an inclusionary policy.”) Stonewall quickly called off the boycott.

Protesters in 2006 demonstrating against the exclusion of Irish and Irish-American gay people from marching in New York’s St. Patrick's Day Parade. Photo by Dima Gavrysh/AP Photo via Al Jazeera America.

Protesters in 2006 demonstrating against the exclusion of Irish and Irish-American gay people from marching in New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Photo by Dima Gavrysh/AP Photo via Al Jazeera America.

Are Guinness, Heineken, and Sam Adams supporting LGBT people out of the goodness of their hearts? It’s possible. But it’s also likely that these companies’ decisions were business decisions based on media attention, fresh memories of the (somewhat misguided) Stoli boycott, and an eye on their bottom lines. It’s notable that boycott threats were required for these pullouts to occur; it’s a reminder that much like what recently occurred with SB 1062 in Arizona, corporate support of LGBT issues is tied to the money to be made from LGBT consumers, and that corporate action isn’t always going to be the best option for LGBT communities. Still, it’s a clear sign of the changing landscape of expected LGBT-inclusiveness, and the backlash that can arise from exclusion.

Ford Motor Company is now the last major American corporate sponsor remaining on the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade.

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Laura Mandanas is a Filipina American living in Brooklyn. By day, she works as an industrial engineer. By night, she is beautiful and terrible as the morn, treacherous as the seas, stronger than the foundations of the Earth. All shall love her and despair.

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15 Comments

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    Thanks for this article. I was confused about why an LGBT group wanted to march in the parade, and I was glad you mentioned that Sam Adams and Guinness probably weren’t pulling their sponsorship out of the goodness of their corporate hearts.

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      Really makes me mad that Irish-Americans are excluding other Irish-Americans from what is now a national holiday celebrating Irishness, just for being LGBT+. Although St Patrick’s day started as a religious holiday, it’s not celebrated as such in Ireland anymore. To me, that’s like not letting LGBT Americans take part in 4th of July festivities. My country still has a lot of issues to address in terms of LGBT rights, but this lot do not reflect the general attitude towards LGBT people in the country they’re trying to associate themselves with. They need to stop trying to use their roots as an excuse to discriminate.

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    Thanks for this article! As an irish american, my feelings for this “Americanized” holiday have always fallen flat. But it’s nice to know that others ( corporate sponsors as well) are doing their part for the group that has been bullied out of a parade that should without a doubt be inclusive.

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    Even if these companies were motivated by concerns over public image/boycotts rather than a desire to do the right thing, I’m glad that they’ve withdrawn support from these homophobic parades. To the best of my knowledge (and someone please correct me if I’m wrong about this), LGBT groups are allowed to march in Dublin’s parade. There’s no excuse for excluding LGBT people from St. Patrick’s Day and I’m glad that it seems to be increasingly expected that LGBT people should be included in things. As someone who is both queer and from an Irish family, I get pissed off when people use their “Irishness” to justify homophobia.

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    To be fair the st patty’s parades don’t let ANY special interest groups march. So for instance if “Irish Gingers” wanted to march under that banner they wouldn’t be allowed because it has an identity listed that is not solely Irish. I feel like everyone is blowing this out of proportion. They just applied the same rule to gay groups as every other group.

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    I was reading about this over the weekend and stumbled upon this response that helped put things in perspective for me-

    “I was a member of the organization that originally sued for the right to march in the parade. We did not want to or ask to have a “gay pride float” in the parade. To claim that we did is bullshit. We just wanted to have a group of people, marching and smiling and waving, with a banner that identified that we were the Irish Lesbian and Gay Association of Boston. That is what the parade organizers took us all the way to the Supreme Court to stop. That is what the crowd along the sides of the street threw rocks and full beer cans at the one year that members of the group were (by court order) allowed to march while the case was ongoing.

    The organizers won the case by claiming to the court that the parade is a private religious event, despite that the parade received support from the city in the form of free services, and had representation of the city in the parade by city officials. The court, 20 something years ago, eagerly accepted any flimsy excuse to allow discrimination against the gay community.”

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      The Ancient Order of Hibernians is a religious fraternal organisation and like it or not, it is their procession. It is frankly ridiculous to expect them to accommodate participants who want to identify with something that is against their teaching in their ceremony. A better argument is whether AOH are the right organisers deserving of the amount of public funds it receives for the St. Patricks Day parade, considering it is a bastardised corporate holiday now anyway, the city should probably look to more appropriate organisers who represent that. I think the LGBT activists were misguided in their demands and attempting to appropriate the day into their agenda, St. Patricks day is not about this, it’s about the official religious feast day of Irelands Patron Saint and a commemoration of his legacy on Irish christianity.

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    Just deleted a lengthy incoherent post full of swearing. (I know, usually I just post them!) just glad to see a bit more awareness of this in the public – finally.

    And in conclusion, the Ancient Order of Hibernians can kiss my queer Irish arse.

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