NYC's St. Pat's Parade may be opening up to LGBT people

by Jamie Manson

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June was a banner month for marriage equality in both Ireland and the United States. Now, the winds of change may be converging on New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

For nearly twenty-five years, gays and lesbians have been banned from marching openly in the City’s famed celebration of Irish heritage. The organizers of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, led by committee president John Dunleavy, have been rigid in their refusal to allow any LGBT Irish group from marching under a banner.

But yesterday Dunleavy was forced out of his post as chairman of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade committee. John Lahey, the board’s former vice president, will replace him.

According to the New York Daily News, Lahey “was given direct authorization to add a second lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender group to the 253-year-old event — and possibly open the door to other groups in future.”

The conflict over the exclusion of LGBT groups has escalated in recent years. New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio has refused to march in the parade, and companies like Guinness and Heineken have removed their sponsorship of the event.

A modicum of progress was made last year when NBC, which televises the parade, insisted on including their LGBT group, called Out@NBCUniversal, in the march.

The participation of Out@NBCUniversal reportedly infuriated Dunleavy. Last week, he barred the group from marching again and threatened to cancel the broadcast contract with NBC.

Dunleavy’s intolerance, it seems, sparked the shake up in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee. Lahey threatened to resign from the committee if the exclusion of LGBT people persisted. The committee responded by ousting Dunleavy and giving Lahey the top post.

“(We are) committed to building on the tradition of celebrating the contributions of all men and women of Irish descent through the St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York City,” Lahey said in a statement.

But some LGBT advocates charge that the committee will only hand pick two organizations that are “inoffensive” to them.

“This doesn’t mean the parade is opening up,” Emmaia Gelman, a member of Irish Queers, told the New York Times. She worries that the committee will choose a group that “toes the line of whatever they think Christian morality is and doesn’t challenge anybody’s perceptions.”

Mayor DeBlasio’s office says that they will review the proposed changes before any decision is made over whether he will march next year.

So far there has been no response from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who was grand marshal of last year’s parade.

Justice may not roll like a river down Fifth Avenue on March 17, 2016, but it is getting harder and harder for the old guard to hold back the spring.

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