A New York gay group has attacked the police for marching in a “homophobic” St Patrick’s Day parade.

The traditional St Patrick’s Day Parade excludes members of the LGBT community on the grounds that it is a religious event.

Today, gay group Irish Queers lined the sides of the parade to protest against the exclusion.

They also criticised local police departments for joining the march, estimating that tens of thousands of police officers and firefighters were involved.

JF Mulligan of Irish Queers said in a statement: “Anti-gay discrimination is now illegal in both Ireland and New York City. The NYPD, FDNY and Mayor Bloomberg need catch up. As city representatives, they cannot legally march until parade organisers renounce their discriminatory message.”

“The police presence at the parade is a strong symbol of the antipathy we already feel from them as LGBT people,” said Eustacia Smith, another protester.

“Every year, the parade reminds us that, if you’re queer, it’s often safer to avoid the police than to call on them for help.”

Emmaia Gelman of Irish Queers said: “We’ve had our permits to protest the parade mysteriously held up and denied by the NYPD, and we’ve seen the city spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to cement any ‘no’ they can legally hand out to us.

“When we’ve resorted to civil disobedience, we’ve experienced violent police hostility toward queers inside NYPD precincts – and toward those who challenge the parade’s hateful message. There is no remaining question about the meaning of NYPD participation in this parade.”

Dublin LGBT groups have also criticised the event. A statement said the exclusion was “deeply un-Irish and something that we cannot allow to happen in the name of an event that is about celebrating Ireland’s rich cultural heritage, of which the LGBT community are a corner stone here in Ireland”.

The parade, which is over 250 years old, is organised by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish-Catholic fraternal organisation.

In 1991 it was legally redefined by the NYC Parade Committee, meaning that organisers could ban gay groups.

The parade is one of the largest St Patrick’s Day events in the world.

Past efforts to persuade organisers to allow gay groups have been unsuccessful.