Organizers of New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade announced Wednesday that they are ending the ban on LGBT-affiliated groups marching in the parade. In 2015, an LGBT group, OUT@NBCUniversal, will not only be able to march, but to carry a banner identifying themselves. Though this won’t be the first time an LGBT group marches, it will be the first time since the parade began in 1762 that they do so with the organizing committee’s consent.
OUT@NBCUniversal is the LGBT employee resource group for NBC, which broadcasts the annual parade. It’s unclear why that group was selected and not others, but according to the organizing committee, other groups can apply in future years. This “change of tone and expanded inclusiveness,” the committee said, “is a gesture of goodwill to the LGBT community in our continuing effort to keep the parade above politics.”
Because of the parade’s outright prohibition on any group that openly identified as LGBT, the event has been highly politicized for many years. This past March, both Guinness and Heineken dropped their financial support for the parade, and Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and the City Council refused to participate.
Mayor de Blasio’s gesture reflects a long history of protest over the ban. Back in 1991, Mayor David Dinkins refused to lead the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, choosing to instead march with a group of LGBT Irish people. The parade had attempted to ban them, but Dinkins intervened on their behalf. The group was booed the entire time, and Dinkins even had two beer cans thrown at him. He compared it to “marching in Birmingham, Alabama,” but said, “Every time I hear someone boo, it strengthens my resolve that it was the right thing to do.”
Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade has similarly banned LGBT groups. In 1992, a judge ruled that a gay pride group was allowed to march, but they endured “lobbed smoke bombs and beer cans” and signs that read “AIDS cures gays” and “Quarantine the queers.” The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, which organizes that parade, doubled down on their homophobia and took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1995, the Court unanimously ruled that private groups could decide who marched in their parades and who didn’t, guaranteeing the right of both New York and Boston’s parades to continue their anti-LGBT bans. Boston’s ban continues to this day, which this year prompted similar boycotts by city officials as well as Samuel Adams Beer withdrawing as a sponsor.
The New York parade committee’s statement acknowledged that the ban on LGBT groups ultimately failed to accomplish its intended purpose. “Organizers have diligently worked to keep politics — of any kind — out of the parade in order to preserve it as a single and unified cultural event,” they wrote. “Paradoxically, that ended up politicizing the parade.”