The dispute that began in 1991 over gays marching in the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade has finally come to a conclusion with the announcement that Irish LGBT group Lavender and Green will take part in 2016.
The big winner, apart from the Irish gay groups, is New York Mayor Bill De Blasio.
His insistence that he would not follow the Bloomberg compromise of marching in the Queens parade featuring Irish gays and then the major Manhattan parade that banned gays forced a resolution of the issue.
De Blasio clearly stated it was all or nothing.
The general consensus had been that we would have to await the retirement of the aging Irish-born cohort who ran the parade before any change would occur. John Dunleavy, at 78, was the master and commander and was not giving one inch on gays participating.
Thus a 24-year dispute dragged on through several mayors and numerous failed attempts to broker a compromise.
The original Irish gay group was the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (ILGO) formed after an article in the Irish Voice highlighted huge problems for young Irish gays, especially those living in heavily Irish neighborhoods such as the North Bronx.
I was at the inaugural meeting, which was first publicized in the Irish Voice. It was filled to overflowing, but it soon became evident that a political, rather than a social, agenda was the aim of the newly formed ILGO.
They wanted the right to march in the parade as their main priority and thus the gay issue and the parade became the focal point. It was clear from the hostile parade reaction that it was a deep and steep uphill climb.
The parade has always been at the center of controversies. In the 1980s it was a fight for the right of Irish Republican organizations such as Noraid to march. The Irish government fought them tooth and nail and would step down when they passed.
With the North well on its way to the peace process the gay issue quickly took over. Along the way there were many changes in personalities and ILGO faded from the scene, replaced by Brendan Fay’s Lavender and Green Alliance.
Fay, a devout Catholic, was a far more difficult foe for the parade committee. He was no hothead and only made reasonable demands, yet his organization was continually refused the right to march.
He created the Queens parade, St. Pat's for All as an alternative, all inclusive parade which was a master stroke. Suddenly the New York public came to realize that the Manhattan parade did not speak for all Irish Americans.
The damage the stand-off did to the stature of the community is hard to fathom. Every year at the time of maximum exposure for Irish issues the parade and the gays story dominated, painting a very damaging picture of an Irish community deeply hostile to any compromise with gay organizations.
At heart, though, the parade committee was a Potemkin village of increasingly elderly native Irish utterly out of touch with the times such as when Pope Francis stated “Who am I to judge” when asked about gay people.
The parade was also fortunate that in Vice Chairman Doctor John Lahey, President of Quinnipiac University, they had a dynamic presence as far removed from the old school as possible.
Lahey made extended efforts to work out a compromise with Dunleavy, but nothing would satisfy the old guard.
When Lahey moved he did so very quickly, especially after de Blasio’s boycott had put the issue firmly on the front burner.
First he got agreement to allow an NBC gay group to march, which established the principle, and then moved directly against Dunleavy. Key to his strategy was the support of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who accepted the post of Grand Marshal in 2015 knowing a gay group was marching. It was truly a new day.
Dunleavy support still runs deep among his generation of Irish-born who run many of the active Irish groups, but new questions about financial mismanagement and dubious claims about television contracts later denied by the TV station have surely undermined him.
He was given the opportunity of a perfect out of being named grand marshal for 2016 and going out in a blaze of glory, but he failed to grasp the peace overture.
Now with Lavender and Green invited it seems it is game set and match to the reformers and finally we have a resolution of the parade impasse, which has bedeviled the Irish community for 24 years.
Bill de Blasio will certainly march now that an Irish group is taking part.
It is surely ironic in the extreme that a mayor known for having very little contact with the Irish community or dealing with their concerns may well have solved their biggest nightmare.