BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | The organizers of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade that takes Fifth Ave. every year will admit an Irish L.G.B.T. group for the first time since the exclusion of L.G.B.T. people from that parade launched protests and a boycott by elected officials 25 years ago.
“The New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade board of directors says to all, céad míle fáilte — a 100,000 welcomes,” said Frank McGreal, a parade board member, using a Gaelic phrase.
The welcome came at a Thurs., March 3, event held at the Irish Consulate on Park Ave. that was emceed by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Barbara Jones, the Irish consul general to New York. The invitation to march that was extended to the Lavender & Green Alliance was announced in February, but what appeared to be a negotiation on the mechanics of the group’s participation was only recently finalized.
All L.G.B.T. groups that wish to participate will march behind the Lavender & Green Alliance banner and the group will step onto Fifth Ave. at 3:10 p.m. from W. 48th St.
The March 3 announcement was a teary affair at times, as politicians and activists who have battled to get into the parade recalled earlier struggles and savored obtaining the goal that they sought for so long.
“Go raibh míle maith agat,” said Brendan Fay, who represented the Alliance, in Gaelic. “That means a thousand thanks to you… . As the Irish L.G.B.T. community, we extend a very special thank you to Dr. John Leahy, the St. Patrick’s Parade board and committee, [and] thank you Frank McGreal for your words. We thank you for your hospitable decision, which reflects the feelings and sentiments of so many Irish and Irish Americans. Your historic gesture of welcome, like a miracle of hospitality, undoes the anguish and pain of exclusion and discrimination. ”
In 1991, Mayor David Dinkins invited the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization to march with him, though without its banner, after the group was banned by parade organizers. The mayor’s move infuriated John Cardinal O’Connor, then the head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York and a leading anti-L.G.B.T. voice.
The crowd vilified Dinkins and the marchers, leading one mayoral aide that year to call the march “two miles of hate.” Dinkins compared it to the treatment given to civil rights marchers in Southern cities in the 1960s. L.G.B.T. groups were banned that year, and the annual protests over the ban have meant that every parade since then has been marked by controversy. Many elected officials, including de Blasio, chose to boycott the parade. On March 3, de Blasio said he would march this year.
OUT@NBCUniversal, an L.G.B.T. employee group at NBCUniversal, a Comcast unit, applied to march in 2014, but was denied. The group marched in 2015, and it was uneventful. Activists who had long called for opening up the parade, however, noted that the NBC group represented the event’s media sponsor and not the Irish-American community.
The focus at the March 3 press conference was pressing the point that the conflict is over, though McGreal would not say if an L.G.B.T. group will be permitted to participate in future parades.
“This March 17, we will all march together,” de Blasio said. “It’s something we can now put behind us because unity has been achieved.”
Missing from the event was anyone representing the archdiocese, which has the ability to at least make the Alliance’s participation controversial. Timothy Dolan, the current cardinal, has adopted a conciliatory tone toward the L.G.B.T. community, though that tone has not translated into changes in policy.
“I also have to say I had a wonderful phone call with Cardinal Dolan, who was in his home state of Missouri,” de Blasio said. “We talked about what this moment meant. I told him from the bottom of my heart how appreciative I had been for the tone he set in the city, for the welcome and openness that he has created to say to everyone, ‘We can find a way forward.’ ”
Emmaia Gelman, a member of Irish Queers, which has been leading the protests and the boycott of the parade in recent years, including last year when OUT@NBCUniversal marched, said that she would be marching this year.
“The demand to end the exclusion from the St. Patrick’s Day Parade has always been for Irish lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender marchers to participate in the parade behind their own banner,” she said. “We’re really pleased that’s going to happen. It’s been a long 25 years… . It’s really a great thing that it’s over.”