In a standing room only gathering at the Irish Consulate last Wednesday that the official New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade website described as “joyous,” parade board member Frank McGreal gave a warm welcome to the Irish gay group Lavender and Green Alliance, which will take its place in the march up Fifth Avenue for the first time this year.
The Irish LGBT organization, co-founded by Irish community activist Brendan Fay in 1994, was excluded from one of the world’s most famous marches for 25 years, and last Wednesday’s gathering in honor of Lavender and Green and officially supported by the New York City march would have been unfathomable 12 months ago. A change in the parade board’s leadership last June – the board is now led by Dr. John Lahey, president of Quinnipiac University – has ushered in a new era of inclusiveness and cooperation.
Members of the Fifth Avenue parade board attended the event hosted by Consul General Barbara Jones in honor of Lavender and Green and its annual St. Pat’s for All parade in Queens. McGreal offered a warm welcome to Fay and Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy, the co-chairs of Lavender and Green, and to all the group’s members.
Fay told the Irish Voice that he expects at least 300 participants to march with the Lavender and Green Alliance on Fifth Avenue, a contingent that will include LGBT members and the Irish community leaders who have been their longtime supporters and advocates.
“It will be a historic moment and people are contacting us from around the country and even from Ireland who want to fly in and participate on the day,” Fay said.
“From March 1 on the Lavender and Green website you will be able to contact us to request to participate. We want to reach out to everyone who has been part of this movement and effort over the past 25 years.”
Lavender and Green is not planning on printing a free pass for each person who expresses an interest in marching, however. The emphasis will be placed on inviting those who have participated in their organization and efforts over the decades.
Among the well known names confirmed to march with the group on Fifth Avenue will be former grand marshals of the St. Pat’s for All parade in Sunnyside-Woodside such as Peter Quinn and Malachy McCourt. A number of New York City Council members will also stand behind the Lavender and Green banner, and, as the Irish Voice recently reported, so will New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Meanwhile, the grand marshals for the 2016 Sunnyside-Woodside parade in Queens on Sunday, March 6 are philanthropist Loretta Brennan Glucksman and best-selling Irish author Colum McCann, who both spoke at last Wednesday’s consulate event.
Brennan Glucksman reminded the gathering of just how meaningful to Irish American families and to herself personally the lifting of the ban on Irish gay marching groups on Fifth Avenue is, adding that those celebrating will include her own son and his husband.
McCann added that the ban had hurt not just gay people but their friends and family, and in that sense its lifting should be celebrated by all the Irish.
“From the podium, I looked out at the crowd of supporters old and new, and saw the entire New York Irish community represented and all of them cheering. It was a night I will never forget,” D’Arcy told the Irish Voice.
“This year the parade marks the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising,” McGreal said in his remarks. “In 1916, a small group of Irish men and women dared to act on their deep desire for freedom. Their vision and sacrifices created an Irish Republic that cherishes, all the children of the nation equally. We stand on their shoulders whenever Irish men and women gather to honor St. Patrick and to celebrate our shared Irish culture,” McGreal said.
He concluded his remarks by saying, “To Brendan Fay and the Lavender and Green Alliance, I say, Cead Mile Failte, one-hundred thousand welcomes.”
The evening was a reminder that Fay's long journey toward full citizenship has been Ireland's and Irish America's too. When he immigrated to America in the 1980s it was still illegal to be gay in Ireland thanks to a Victorian era law imposed by the British and retained by the new Republic.
But in the late 1980s something was already changing. America was teaching Fay, now 57, that he belonged to a distinctive and powerful community and culture, the Irish. At the same time the city's influential gay community was showing the then closeted school teacher the same inspiring lesson.
It was only when Fay and others wanted to combine and celebrate those twin identities on March 17, 1990 on Fifth Avenue that the Irish community said no, you will have to choose. You can be Irish or you could be gay, but you cannot march as both.
For Fay, a longtime Irish community activist, and for other members of the then Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (ILGO), it was as if they were being asked to participate and stay home simultaneously.
Fay did not know it at the time but that crafty Catch 22 would play itself out over 25 years.
These days, Fay, D’Arcy and their vast array of supporters couldn’t be prouder to be both Irish and gay on March 17.
“We have crossed this extraordinary threshold and people are feeling it,” Fay said. “The Irish community is feeling it. There's no going back.”