(New York Post) New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade will finally end its ban on gay groups marching in its annual Irish celebration, organizers said Wednesday.
OUT@NBCUniversal — a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender affinity group at 30 Rock — will be flying its banner and marching up Fifth Avenue on March 17, officials said.
That’ll be the only gay group marching in the 2015 version of the world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade, but other LGBT groups can apply in future years, spokesman Bill O’Reilly said.
The organizing committee said this move to “change of tone and expanded inclusiveness is a gesture of goodwill to the LGBT community in our continuing effort to keep the parade above politics.”
OUT@NBCUniversal applied to be in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, according to Craig Robinson, executive vice president and chief diversity officer at NBCUniversal.
It wasn’t immediately clear why OUT@NBCUniversal was chosen or if there were any other openly gay groups that applied.
“We welcome the parade committee’s decision to accept OUT@NBCUniversal’s application to march and enthusiastically embrace the gesture of inclusion,” Robinson said.
“Our employees, families and friends look forward to joining in this time-honored celebration of Irish culture and heritage.”
Organizers insisted they are “remaining loyal to church teachings,” and O’Reilly said Cardinal Timothy Dolan — grand marshal of the 2015 parade — was “very supportive” of including gay groups in the event.
In a prepared statement Wednesday, Dolan didn’t outright endorse the move — but said the parade remains “close to its Catholic heritage.”
“Neither my predecessors as archbishop of New York nor I have ever determined who would or would not march in this parade (or any of the other parades that march along Fifth Avenue, for that matter),” he said, “but have always appreciated the cooperation of parade organizers in keeping the parade close to its Catholic heritage.”
“I know that there are thousands and thousands of gay people marching in this parade,” Dolan has said previously. “And I’m glad they are.”
Over the years, the parade’s ban on openly gay groups has grown problematic.
Mayor Bill de Blasio refused to march in this past year’s parade, and Guinness beer withdrew as a sponsor.
The Guinness loss was a huge factor in forcing parade organizers to change their long-standing policy, a former grand marshal told IrishCentral.com.
Guinness officials also played a role in brokering the deal that brought OUT@NBCUniversal into the 2015 parade, according to IrishCentral.com.
“Once an iconic company like Guinness showed it was standing up, pretty much everyone else had to follow,” the one-time grand marshal said.
Obviously, gay individuals have always marched in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade — but they’ve never before been allowed to participate under a banner identifying them as gay.
About 320 groups will be marching in the 2015 parade, the committee said.
“Organizers have diligently worked to keep politics — of any kind — out of the parade in order to preserve it as a single and unified cultural event,” organizers said. “Paradoxically, that ended up politicizing the parade.”
Politicians, city workers in uniform, marching bands, bagpipers and Irish dancers have all been stalwarts of the parade, which began in 1762.
Gay rights advocates hailed Wednesday’s announcement but said it was long overdue.
“It’s about time,” said GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis.
“Discrimination has no place on America’s streets, least of all on Fifth Avenue. As an Irish-Catholic American, I look forward to a fully inclusive St. Patrick’s Day Parade that I can share with my wife and children, just as my own parents shared with me.”
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito — who, like de Blasio, did not march in this year’s parade over the gay flap — hailed the organizers’ move.
“This is a welcome first step and a good day for New Yorkers who believe in fairness, equality, and human rights,” she said. “For far too long, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade excluded New Yorkers just because of who they [want] to love. I am happy organizers finally realized that this parade is better when all are invited.”
Former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is openly gay, said parade organizers have lifted a “terrible mark of discrimination and bigotry” by allowing a gay group to march.
“Today faith had been rewarded. After close to 25 years of struggle and hard work, the terrible mark of discrimination and bigotry has finally been lifted from Fifth Avenue and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” said the one-time mayoral hopeful.
“All of the members of the LGBT community and our allies deserve great thanks for never giving up and remaining committed, proud, and strong. I also want to wholeheartedly thank [parade organizers] the [Ancient Order of Hibernians] and Cardinal Dolan for taking this important step forward.”