Whirlwind Week for NYC March


Cardinal Dolan arrives at the grand marshal announcement at the New York Athletic Club last week.

By Debbie McGoldrick

It's been a whirlwind week in the history of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade since the news -- first reported in last week’s Irish Voice -- that a gay group would be permitted to march in the event for the first time next year, and that Cardinal Timothy Dolan had been named parade grand marshal.

On Wednesday morning, a communications firm now working for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee issued a statement confirming the Irish Voice report that a gay group from the NBC network – OUT@NBCUniversal -- had been approved by the committee to take part in next year’s event. The inclusion came about after the realization that a repeat of last year’s march – including sponsor withdrawals and political protests – was also on the horizon for 2015 unless a compromise was reached.

Cardinal Dolan also issued a statement on Wednesday – hours before his formal introduction as grand marshal at an event at the New York Athletic Club – that affirmed his “confidence and support” for the inclusion of the NBC group.

The announcement was given a cautious approval by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who called it a “step forward” at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon.

“This is progress. What I've called for for a long time is an inclusive parade … Whatever the details, this indicates progress. This is a step forward.”

But the mayor -- whose boycott of the parade last year gave fresh impetus to gay groups seeking inclusion and touched off other withdrawals from the march – refused to commit to marching in 2015.

“I need to know more before I can tell you how we're going to handle something six months from now,” he said.

Gay groups gave grudging credit to the parade organizers for admitting the NBC group, but criticized the decision as driven by monetary concerns. Many groups also slammed the move because it failed to give a place to Irish gay groups in the march.

“It’s about time,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD. “Discrimination has no place on America’s streets, least of all on Fifth Avenue. As an Irish Catholic American, I look forward to a fully inclusive St. Patrick’s Day Parade that I can share with my wife and children, just as my own parents shared with me.”

Irish Queers added, “This is a deal that was made behind closed doors between parade organizers and one of their last remaining sponsors, NBC. It allows NBC's gay employees to march, but embarrassingly has not ended the exclusion of Irish LGBT groups.”

On Wednesday night at the New York Athletic Club on Central Park South, a throng of media lined up on one side of the room for a press conference introducing Dolan as the grand marshal. The annual event was also attended by members of the Parade Committee and several guests from local Irish groups.

The cardinal was introduced by the Parade Committee Vice Chairman Dr. John Lahey, president of Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, and the parade grand marshal in 1997. Lahey praised Dolan as an “inspirational figure for the city and the nation,” and added that the cardinal, who has roots in Co. Cavan and is frequent visitor to Ireland, has “invigorated” the church.

Dolan, for his part, expressed gratitude for being asked to lead the march and the pride he felt in leading a parade that celebrated “our love of our Irish heritage, linked to the patron saint of Ireland.”

The cardinal also made mention of the fact that there were “many occasions” when the church in Ireland “like ourselves, had not lived up to its ideal” – but his formal remarks did not include any mention of the seismic shift that permitted the addition of the NBC gay group in next year’s parade.

But when Lahey opened the floor to questions from the media, the first was directed at Dolan, who was asked for his opinion on the inclusion of a gay marching group, and he gave his seal of approval.

The decision, he said, “wasn’t mine to make,” while adding, “I have no trouble with the decision at all … I think the decision is a wise one.

“Three years ago the parade published an excellent history of the parade … one thing you’ll see there is that the parade has never been free of controversy. Some people say that‘s part of the Irish heritage as well.”

After the formal proceedings concluded, Dolan stayed for the best part of an hour to greet guests and pose for pictures. The Irish Voice spoke to several guests who supported the inclusion of the NBC gay group in next year’s parade. “I think it’s great. It’s time to move on and it will be good for the parade,” said Madeline Conlon, an Irish American from Middle Village, Queens who never misses the march on Fifth Avenue.

Conlon’s viewpoint was shared by many Irish American veteran parade-goers and local Irish county officials – many of whom chose not to go on the record with their point of view. “I think it’s fine, I don’t have a problem with it really because we’re all equal,” one long-time Irish county leader said.

“But please, don’t quote me on that. It might be a bit too soon.”