Gay rights advocates dissatisfied over St. Patrick’s Day Parade inclusion limits
FILE - In a March 17, 2006 file photo, members of the Irish-American gay community protest on Fifth Avenue against the exclusion of Irish and Irish-American gays people from marching in the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade Friday, in New York. Organizers of the world's largest St. Patrick's Day Parade say they're ending a ban and allowing a gay group to march under its own banner for the first time. The parade committee, in a statement made available to The Associated Press, said on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, that OUT@NBCUniversal, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender support group at the company that broadcasts the parade, would be marching up Manhattan's Fifth Avenue on March 17 under an identifying banner. (AP Photo/Dima Gavrysh, File)
A decision by organizers of New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade to allow one gay organization to march is a disappointment after decades of fighting by gay groups for full participation, several advocates said yesterday.
Some were dismayed that the organizers had chosen just one lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group to participate next year after ending a ban on them. Others expressed continuing mistrust.
Nathan Schaefer, executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda, called the announcement “disappointing and self-serving.”
“While this development is long overdue, inviting one group to march at the exclusion of all others … is a far stretch from the full inclusion we deserve,” Schaefer said.
Sarah Kate Ellis, president of the gay rights group GLAAD, said parade organizers – who announced other gay groups could apply for the parade in 2016 and afterward – “must be held accountable” to that pledge.
“Discrimination has no place on America’s streets, least of all on Fifth Avenue,” she said. “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.”
The New York City Saint Patrick’s Day Parade Committee said yesterday that OUT(at)NBCUniversal, an LGBT resource group at the company that broadcasts the parade, would be marching up Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue March 17 under an identifying banner. In the past, organizers said gays were free to march in the nation’s biggest and oldest St. Patrick’s Day Parade but only with other groups and not with banners identifying them as gay.
The exclusion had made participation in the march a political issue in recent years. The committee said it made the “gesture of goodwill to the LGBT community in our continuing effort to keep the parade above politics.”
But gay leaders said the organizers were forced into it.
“They weren’t nudged, they were shoved into making this decision,” said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign. “They were increasingly beginning to look like dinosaurs.
“In one of the world’s most diverse and inclusive cities, not to allow gay people to march was becoming an anachronistic decision that they could no longer reasonably justify.”
The inclusion of OUT(at)NBCUniversal came in the midst of major triumphs for gays and supporters in court rulings on same-sex marriage. When a federal judge yesterday upheld Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriages, it was the first loss for gay-marriage supporters after more than 20 consecutive rulings overturning bans in other states.
And it came after Pope Francis set the stage for a radical shift in tone about Roman Catholic Church teaching on homosexuality when he said “Who am I to judge?” about the sexual orientation of priests.
Parade organizers said they were “remaining loyal to church teachings,” and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, next year’s grand marshal, issued a statement yesterday saying the committee “continues to have my confidence and support.”
The exclusion of gay groups prompted first-term Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio to refuse to march in the 2014 parade, and Guinness and Heineken withdrew their sponsorships.
De Blasio said yesterday that the inclusion of OUT(at)NBCUniversal was “a step forward,” but he would not commit to next year’s parade until he knows more.
Guinness’s parent company said, “We are pleased to see that the various parties are making progress on this issue.” It said it was open to talking with the organizers about supporting the 2015 parade.
NBC, whose local affiliate has been televising the parade since the 1990s, would not confirm reports that it had threatened to drop coverage over the issue of gay participation. But it said NBC executive Francis Comerford, a member of the parade committee, helped with the agreement to include OUT(at)NBCUniversal.
Whether it was the mayor or the pope or the people at Guinness who prompted the decision, gay groups took some satisfaction in their role even if it didn’t produce everything they wanted.
“This was decades’ worth of work,” said Ellis, of GLAAD. “The LGBT organizations are the ones that put pressure on the corporations that were sponsoring the parade, and when they withdrew it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”