New York's St. Patrick's Day parade cracks open door to openly gay group

The organizing committee said the LGBT group OUT@NBCUniversal could march in the 2015 St. Patrick's Day Parade and that other gay groups could apply in future years.

Dima Gavrysh/AP/File
Members of the Irish-American gay community protest on Fifth Avenue against the exclusion of Irish and Irish-American gays people from marching in the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, in New York, March 17, 2006. Organizers of the world's largest St. Patrick's Day Parade say they're ending a ban and allowing a gay group to march under its own banner for the first time. The parade committee, in a statement made available to The Associated Press, said on Wednesday, that OUT@NBCUniversal, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender support group at the company that broadcasts the parade, would be marching up Manhattan's Fifth Avenue on March 17 under an identifying banner.

For the first time in the history of New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, an openly gay group will be permitted to march under its own banner.

The New York City Saint Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, a private organization, said Wednesday it had approved an application to march in the parade filed by OUT@NBCUniversal, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender resource group at the company that is broadcasting the parade on March 17, 2015.

The decision, which was first reported by The Irish Voice, is an attempt to quell a storm of political controversy that has surrounded previous parades. New York Mayor Bill De Blasio boycotted the 2014 parade because of organizers’ refusal to allow LGBT groups to march under identifying banners – a privilege enjoyed by the majority of the more than 300 groups that march each year. The popular Irish beer company Guinness also pulled is sponsorship from last year’s parade to protest the exclusion.

The organizing committee said the inclusion of the group represented a “change of tone and expanded inclusiveness [that] is a gesture of goodwill to the LGBT community in our continuing effort to keep the parade above politics.”

However, gay rights activists argue that admitting a single group does not amount to inclusiveness.

Nathan Schaefer, executive of the New York LGBT advocacy group Empire State Pride Agenda, said the decision to include one specific group was “disappointing and self-serving.”

“While this development is long overdue, inviting one group to march at the exclusion of all others … is a far stretch from the full inclusion we deserve,” Mr. Schaefer said.

When asked by the Wall Street Journal if other gay groups may join next year's parade, a spokesman for the organizers said, "They can apply for 2016. OUT@NBCUnivesal is the one LGBT group marching in 2015."

“It’s about time,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of the gay-rights group GLAAD. “Discrimination has no place on America’s streets, least of all on Fifth Avenue.”

St. Patrick’s’ Day parades in both New York and Boston have become flashpoints for gay rights. The issue has been simmering for decades, ever since the US Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that the private organizers behind the Boston parade were within their rights to exclude an Irish-American LGBT group.

Gay rights groups in both cities have been pushing for the right to be included ever since.

“Just because the parade organizers still have the right to do this doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do,” Kara Coredini, executive director of the Boston-based MassEquality LGBT advocacy group, told the Monitor shortly after this year’s parade.

“There are Irish people who are LGBT, there are veterans who are LGBT, and they want to be able to participate in a parade that’s celebrating Irish heritage and that’s celebrating the service and sacrifice of our military service members,” Ms. Coredini says.

Organizers of the two parades have consistently argued that people who identify as LGBT have never been prohibited from marching with other groups as long as they are not advertising their sexual preference – a distinction that Coredini sees as “very symbolic of the double standard that LGBT people face in their daily lives about being able to live their lives openly and honestly.”

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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