By Mara Gay
Sept. 29, 2015
Several gay groups declared victory on Tuesday after the organizers of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue invited a second gay group to march in next year’s march.
Gay activists pledged that the group’s invitation would end 25 years of protesting the event.
The parade’s board of directors voted Monday night to invite Lavender & Green Alliance, a gay Irish heritage group, to march in the 2016 parade. This year, Out@NBCUniversal, a gay-straight alliance group at NBC, became the first gay group to march behind its own banner since the parade began more than 250 years ago.
While the NBC group participated amid much fanfare in March, many gay activists and politicians protested this year’s parade, saying the organizers’ decision to include the NBC group was insufficient because it is a corporate organization that isn’t directly connected to Irish culture.
But on Tuesday, Irish Queers, the group at the forefront of the annual parade protest, issued a statement headlined: “We Won!”
Emmaia Gelman of the Irish Queers called the organizers’ decision “a total victory.”
“It’s everything we’ve fought for for the past 25 years,” she said.
John Lahey, chairman of the board of directors of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Inc., the nonprofit that oversees the Fifth Avenue parade, said the 18-member board voted overwhelmingly to include the Lavender and Green Alliance next year.
“We’re hopeful those who thought we didn’t go far enough in 2015 will feel more satisfied,” Mr. Lahey said. “We don’t want the false impression that we discriminate.”
The NBC group has been invited to march again in 2016.
The organizers’ decision elicited sharp criticism from some quarters.
“It’s contemptible. It’s become a circus,” said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League.
“They should no longer be able to call it the St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” Mr. Donohue said. “I will never march with them again.”
For gay groups, though, the board’s vote was a cause for celebration.
“This is a breakthrough. It’s a marvelous moment,” said Brendan Fay, chairman and co-founder of the Lavender and Green Alliance.
Mr. Fay said he received a phone call Monday night from Mr. Lahey with the invitation.
“I was so happy,” Mr. Fay said. “My thoughts went back over 25 years and I thought of many people who had fought, protested, stood up for this very moment.”
In 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio, citing the organizers’ position on gay groups, became the first mayor in 20 years to boycott the parade.The organizers banned displays of gay identification, such as banners, flags and pins, which effectively prevented gay groups from marching.
Mr. de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other elected officials declined to march again this year, saying they didn’t think the NBC group was sufficient.
On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio said the mayor was considering the changes to the 2016 parade and hadn’t yet decided whether to march. A spokesman for Ms. Mark-Viverito, a Manhattan Democrat, said she hadn’t yet decided either.
The inclusion of the Lavender and Green Alliance next year marks the culmination of more than two decades of protest and lobbying from activists and elected officials.
In 1991, former Mayor David Dinkins was booed marching in the parade alongside gay activists. Former state Sen. Tom Duane and former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the city’s first openly gay speaker, were among dozens arrested over the years protesting the parade.
Mr. Duane, who estimated he had been arrested about half a dozen times over the issue, said Tuesday that the inclusion of the Lavender and Green Alliance was “a good sign of even more good things to come.”
Mr. Lahey said there were no plans to let other gay groups participate. He said organizers were under pressure from city officials to limit the number of groups that march.
“The purpose of the parade is to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland. That’s our purpose,” he said. “The purpose is not to have the most inclusive parade that ever existed.”
Councilman Ritchie Torres, a Bronx Democrat who is openly gay, said he welcomes the inclusion of a second gay group but progress has been too incremental.
“Drawing the line at two LGBT groups feels arbitrary and exclusionary,” he said.
But Allen Roskoff, a longtime gay-rights activist who has participated in many protests on Fifth Avenue, said he was still prepared to declare victory.
“Is everything absolutely perfect? It never is,” Mr. Roskoff said. “But this is major. A lot of us put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this and it just goes to show that times are changing. We’re very happy.”