Thousands of people attend the 253rd annual St. Patrick's Day Parade along Fifth Avenue in New York City on March 17, 2014. Members of LGBT protest against the exclusion of their community from the parade.
Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty

St. Patrick’s Day parade makes history, but LGBT advocates remain frustrated

Updated

For this first time in history, New York City’s famed St. Patrick’s Day parade will welcome an LGBT organization into its ranks. But equality groups and prominent political allies, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, remain unsatisfied with the parade’s level of inclusion.

Organizers announced last fall that OUT@NBCUniversal – an LGBT resource group at the company that both broadcasts the parade, and is affiliated with msnbc’s parent company – would be marching in the country’s oldest and biggest St. Patrick’s Day celebration. The annual parade contains over 300 marching units and draws thousands to the heart of New York City, where Irish heritage and gay rights both claim deep roots, and at times, come into conflict.

Tuesday’s parade marks the end of a decades-long ban on gay groups marching in the Irish celebration – a practice largely tied to the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality. Even though an openly-LGBT group will be marching this year under an identifying banner, parade organizers said they were “remaining loyal to church teaching.” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York who is serving as this year’s grand marshal, said in a statement he had “confidence and support” in the parade organizers and accepted their decision.

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But for many equality advocates, the parade’s inclusion of just one LGBT group wasn’t quite sufficient cause for celebration.

“It’s a welcome development, but I am frankly disappointed that there aren’t more groups,” Nathan M. Schaefer, executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda, told msnbc. “It’s an encouraging step in the right direction, but it certainly is not sufficient to celebrate the diversity in New York City.”

The organizing committee, whose members were unable to speak with msnbc the day before the parade, said last fall that its decision to allow OUT@NBCUniversal to march was “a gesture of goodwill to the LGBT community in our continuing effort to keep the parade above politics.” Parade Committee Vice Chairman John Lahey added that the NBC group’s application was the only one he had received from a gay organization for the 2015 parade, the Associated Press reported.

Last year, outrage at the committee’s continued refusal to accept applications from explicitly-LGBT groups reached a fever pitch, prompting the newly-sworn in New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to boycott, and longtime sponsor Guinness to withdraw support. This year, however, Guinness decided to come back.

“While there is still work to be done, we are please that the parade organizers have taken steps to allow the LGBT community to be represented,” said the beer company’s owner Diageo (DEO) in a statement earlier this month. “The parade is an important way for Guinness to support the Irish community, and we look forward to celebrating with millions of New Yorkers.”

Tuesday’s parade comes at an historic time for LGBT equality, with the Supreme Court set to consider consolidated marriage equality cases next month, and potentially settle once and for all whether gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to wed. The Catholic Church too seems to have taken up a more welcoming posture regarding the gay community ever since Pope Francis uttered his famous “Who am I to judge?” declaration.

On Sunday, Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade also made history as two LGBT groups were finally able to march after decades of resistance. That struggle went as high as the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1995 ruled that the parade’s organizers had a right to exclude gay groups on First Amendment grounds.

Despite this progress, however, many LGBT advocates are demanding more.

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“For the first time ever, an LGBT group will march under its own banner in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and that’s a show of important progress,” said GLAAD in a statement. “But until all are welcome – especially LGBT Irish groups, who have worked for decades to bring fairness to Fifth Avenue – parade organizers must be held accountable to ending this ban once and for all.”

Mayor de Blasio similarly hailed the inclusion of OUT@NBCUniversal as “a step forward,” but decided to boycott the parade once again. Earlier in the month, de Blasio participated in an alternative St. Patrick’s Day parade, known as the St. Pat’s for All parade, where he championed equality and acceptance.

“You are a hardy troupe,” the mayor told the crowd as snow came down around them. “You are here to celebrate no matter what. That is what pride is all about – pride in the fact that in New York City you can be whoever you are.”

Gay Rights and New York

St. Patrick's Day parade makes history, but LGBT advocates remain frustrated

Updated