LGBT Group Joins Nation’s Largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade

Pride flags fly alongside the Irish tricolor in New York’s annual event.
A man holds up a gay pride flag at New York City's annual St. Patrick's Day parade, one of the largest and oldest in the world, on March 17. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Mar 17, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Every year on March 17, nearly 2 million people decked out in green face paint and shamrock sunglasses gather along New York City’s Fifth Avenue to watch the six-hour-long annual parade. While the Big Apple’s St. Patrick’s Day parade dates back to the 1700s, this year marks an important first in the nation’s largest and oldest celebration of Irish heritage.

On Thursday, LGBT group the Lavender and Green Alliance participated in New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade under its own banner—a historic first for an event that has previously excluded gay organizations and forbidden gay participants from carrying signs or clothing that displayed their sexual orientation.

“This will be the most inclusive parade in the 255-year history of the parade,” parade chair John Lahey told NBC. Although Dublin has long included LGBT groups in its St. Patrick’s Day parade, and parade organizers in Boston—which also hosts one of the largest events in the U.S.—allowed an LGBT group to march last year, New York City organizers have lagged behind.

Roughly 300 people marched under the Lavender and Green Alliance’s banner—including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. It’s the first St. Patrick’s Day parade de Blasio has attended since he took office.

“For the first time in decades, the whole Irish community will come together to celebrate,” de Blasio said at a press conference earlier this month. In 2014, de Blasio chose to skip the event owing to organizers’ refusal to allow LGBT groups entry. The same year, Guinness and Heineken withdrew their corporate sponsorships.

Although the inclusion of LGBT groups in St. Patrick’s Day parades has gained traction in recent years, the ban against them dates back to 1990, when the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization was denied permission to march in the Manhattan extravaganza. The following year, Mayor David Dinkins orchestrated a compromise, allowing the group to participate in the event by walking with another organization. Protesters shouted and threw things at Dinkins and the LGBT marchers, cementing parade organizers’ decision to ban gay groups from participating in the event.

Last year, event organizers allowed OUT@NBCUniversal, an LGBT group made up of NBC employees, to march in the parade. But critics—including de Blasio—felt this move was merely a gesture, given that the group was from the television network that televises the parade rather than one of the LGBT groups that have been working for years to join the event.

“I never thought I’d see the day when I could march up Fifth Avenue in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade with my husband,” Brendan Fay, chairman of the Lavender and Green Alliance, told NBC on Thursday. “When we started in 1991, after getting arrested so many times for protesting the parade, wow, what a moment this is.”