Though this year’s New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade will, for the first time, include a gay marching contingent – employees of parade broadcast network NBC, behind their banner OUT@NBCUniversal – a group of 100 Irish Americans have sent a letter to the parade committee urging the leadership to go a step further and make space for an Irish gay banner.
The letter was sent to the committee on Monday, the same day that Cardinal Timothy Dolan was formally sworn-in as grand marshal for the 2015 parade at a ceremony at the New York Athletic Club in honor of Dolan and the parade aides.
The letter is signed by several recognizable Irish American names including the author Peter Quinn, Irish Repertory Theatre co-founder Ciaran O’Reilly, celebrity fashion designer Don O’Neill, Irish trad musician Tony DeMarco and Friends of Sinn Fein President Jim Cullen. Groups with members represented include the Brehon Law Society, Irish American Writers and Artists, St. Pat’s for All, the Lavender and Green Alliance, law firms, unions and other community groups.
“The New York Irish community initially welcomed the historic news that LGBT groups with their banners would be included in the Fifth Avenue St. Patrick’s Day parade. For many years, Irish Americans have hoped for inclusion and reconciliation on St. Patrick's Day,” the letter reads.
“We also learned that OUT@NBCUniversal would be the only LGBT group allowed to march, and that Irish LGBT people were still not welcomed. We believe that this is not a fair or acceptable resolution.”
In September the parade committee revealed that it had reversed its long-standing policy of prohibiting a gay banner in the parade to make room for OUT@NBCUniversal. The controversial issue of no gay banners was highlighted anew last year when Mayor Bill de Blasio boycotted the parade because of the exclusion; sponsor withdrawals from Guinness and Heineken followed.
This year’s march was facing similar problems – including the ending of live coverage on the local NBC affiliate – and several members of the committee, including vice chairman Dr. John Lahey, were intent on brokering a solution.
The naming of Cardinal Dolan as the 2015 grand marshal was key to the compromise, and shortly after the Irish Voice first broke the news in September, the cardinal issued a statement saying that the committee has his “confidence and support.”
However, deep dissatisfaction remains among those who support the inclusion of a banner in the parade that represents Irish American gays, as the letter makes clear.
“The history of exclusion of Irish LGBT people from the St Patrick’s Day parade has diminished the annual celebration of our culture and heritage for all of us. We can agree that every year in March the media coverage has portrayed the Irish community negatively,” reads the letter.
“Please reconsider this plan, and invite Irish LGBT community representatives to participate in the 2015 parade. In an age of equality and civil rights legislation in the U.S., Ireland, and around the world, we do not want to see the 2015 St. Patrick's Day parade marred by division, boycotts, protests or arrests.
“We urge you to welcome Irish LGBT persons, who contribute so much to the life of New York City as well as to the Irish community. They deserve an equal and respected place in our parade.”
Brendan Fay, long-time Irish LGBT activist and co-founder of the annual inclusive St. Pat’s for All parade in Queens, assisted in coordinating the letter’s signatories. Fay told the Irish Voice that he’s hopeful the request will be met with a positive response, even though the committee has said that the 2015 application period is closed.
“We very much want to build bridges, and we want to see what it is that we can do to reach an accommodation,” said Fay, who added that his ongoing discussions with members of the de Blasio administration would include a request for the mayor to convene Irish LGBT representatives and the parade committee to see if there’s common ground.
De Blasio has yet to say if he plans on marching on Fifth Avenue this year. He is expected to attend the St. Pat’s for All parade which will take place on Sunday, March 1 in Sunnyside and Woodside, as he did last year.
The parade committee was not reachable as the Irish Voice went to press.