Finally for LGBT New Yorkers, rainbows join shamrocks outside of a leprechaun’s den: The barriers to the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade have at last been broken down for our community. After decades of a draconian, discriminatory “no gays!” policy, LGBT groups today don their loudest green garb and march down Fifth Avenue with roughly 200,000 other Irish revelers in the nation’s largest and longest-running parade of its kind.
This year, at least three LGBT groups will officially participate in the festivities, joined by Mayor Bill de Blasio as a marching partner. LGBT groups have been excluded from NYC’s St. Patty’s Day Parade—now in its 255th year—since its inception. However, in 2015, Out@NBCUniversal, a group of gay and lesbian employees, made history as the first LGBT alliance ever allowed to march—but only due to the caveat that NBC is an official parade sponsor. Other LGBT groups remained banned from joining the fun. Through no “luck of the Irish”—but rather years of tough advocacy work, protests and boycotts—the right to march was ultimately extended to other LGBT groups in this year’s celebration.
Riding the tide of equality sweeping the country, LGBT equality advocates, allies, political supporters and progressive corporate sponsors made it known to parade organizers that they were tired of the, well, tired anti-LGBT marching restrictions. For the past two years, Mayor de Blasio refused to attend the St. Patrick’s Day Parade because of the LGBT ban, and in 2014, Heineken and Guinness retracted their sponsorships of the event for the same reason. And really, what’s a Big Apple St. Patty’s Day without Guinness and a gay old time?
“It’s a moment where some real healing is happening and some real progress has occurred,” de Blasio said Wednesday. “And having watched over this last quarter century with pain […] it’s amazing when people find a way to overcome divisions.”
The mayor marches twice in the parade, first with the NYPD and FDNY, then with the Lavender and Green Alliance and roughly 250 people under its banner, including openly gay City Council members Daniel Dromm and James Van Bramer. The Lavender and Green Alliance is an Irish LGBT group started by Brendan Fay in 1994 that produces Queens’ LGBT-inclusive St. Pat’s for All Parade. Joining them in the march is the group Irish Queers (IQ), an offshoot of the now-defunct Irish Gay and Lesbian Organization (ILGO) and one that organized various key demonstrations rallying for the extension of NYC’s parade participation to LGBT marchers.
In another first, the Irish TV channel is slated to broadcast the parade live in Ireland and the U.K., the Associated Press reported.
Former Sen. George Mitchell, who played a pivotal role in the Northern Ireland peace talks in the 1990s, serves as this year’s grand marshal.
The 2016 St. Patrick’s Day Parade also commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, when Irish nationalists launched a rebellion against the British and proclaimed Ireland an independent republic.