John Dunleavy, the chairman of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade, is shopping the parade broadcast rights to other local networks because NBC insisted on the inclusion of a gay marching group in this year’s event, multiple sources tell the Irish Voice.
Also, speaking at a parade lunch in April, Dunleavy said gay groups would “have a problem” securing a slot in next year’s line of march.
The local NBC affiliate, Channel 4, has aired the Fifth Avenue parade live for several years, but was prepared to end its coverage in 2015 if organizers failed to include a gay marching unit, a divisive issue that caused controversy for decades.
OUT@NBCUniversal, NBC’s LGBT support group, was given a place in the line of march – with the approval of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who was named grand marshal -- NBC once again provided four hours of live TV coverage, and sponsors that had withdrawn support from the march in 2014 returned.
The Irish Voice has learned that the local Fox affiliate, WNYW Channel 5, has already passed on the chance to air the 2016 parade. Dunleavy and his allies on the committee have also reached out to WPIX Channel 11, but it is believed that the response will also be negative.
“This is all about the gay issue,” one parade source told the Irish Voice. “It’s unfortunate that John Dunleavy just can’t let it go. It’s June, everyone is taking a breather but not him. He’s still angry.”
The parade committee remains divided over the inclusion of openly gay groups in the line of march. Dunleavy opposed the invitation to OUT@NBC to take part in this year’s parade; their inclusion came through a compromise brokered by parade vice chairman Dr. John Lahey, president of Quinnipiac University, and trustee Francis Comerford, a top NBC executive and grand marshal of the parade in 2012.
Dunleavy admitted at a parade event in April that he’ll stand his ground to prevent the inclusion of gay marching groups in future years. He told an interviewer for the parade’s Facebook page that he contemplated stepping down as chairman after 44 years of working on the parade in various capacities, but then decided to seek another term “though the memory isn’t as good as it used to be,” the 78-year-old native of Co. Westmeath said.
“Some of the guys talked to me. There is going to be some changes,” Dunleavy said when asked about next year’s march by the interviewer at a lunch for parade volunteers held at Antun’s in Queens.
“No major changes but there is going to be changes. I am going to run for another term and [at] that time we will put certain items into the changes that we need.”
Clearly commenting on the inclusion of gay groups in next year’s march, Dunleavy warned, “The parade itself is not there to promote anybody’s particular agenda in any way, shape or form. The parade represents our faith, our heritage and our culture, nothing more and nothing less. So we’re going to keep to that, and anybody who wants to mix that up is going to have a problem next year.”
Dunleavy is likely to win another term as parade chairman, sources say. He is a regular and popular attendee at local Irish events hosted by the county organizations and other groups that vote for the position.
However, multiple sources add that Dunleavy and his allies will find it next to impossible to row back and once again ban a gay marching group. The parade suffered financially in 2014 with multiple sponsor withdrawals because of the ban, chief among them Guinness, which returned to support this year’s march because of the OUT@NBC compromise. The public relations black eye was equally severe, with many labeling the New York City march – one of the largest in the world – as homophobic.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has boycotted the parade for the past two years over the issue, along with the City Council. De Blasio and Council members maintain that the inclusion of OUT@NBC didn’t go far enough, and that space must be made for an identifiably Irish gay group as well.
“Even Cardinal Dolan was fine with OUT@NBC being in the march this year,” a source told the Irish Voice.
“But John Dunleavy thinks he knows better. It’s unreal. And with the Irish yes vote in the marriage equality referendum last month, he makes even less sense.”
If Dunleavy and his allies did get their way, boycotts and resignations from the parade’s financial backers would follow.
“It’s amazing how he doesn’t see that. Imagine the headlines if the parade went back to banning a gay group, and the image of the New York Irish that would convey. It just can’t happen,” a source said.
OUT@NBC was one of the final marching units to take part in the parade and were well received by those who remained on Fifth Avenue. Their debut as the first gay group in the march was covered by media from around the world, and they were humbled by being the first to break the barrier.
“Some group had to be first, and it was us,” Thomas Roberts, the MSNBC anchor who took part in the march with his colleagues, told the Irish Voice.
“I’m really proud and really happy. We all are.”
OUT@NBC also tweeted after the parade that it looks forward to next year’s march, which will also mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising.
“That's a wrap! History made! First #LGBT group in the #nyc St. Patrick's Day parade. See you next year!” the group tweeted.