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 in New York in 2006. / Dima Gavrysh, AP
Organizers of New York's St. Patrick's Day Parade said Wednesday they will no longer ban gay groups from marching in the annual event.
The parade committee said that OUT@NBCUniversal, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender support group, would be marching up Manhattan's Fifth Avenue as a group for the parade March 17.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the 2015 grand marshal, offered parade organizers "confidence and support."
"My predecessors and I have always left decisions on who would march to the organizers of the individual parades," the statement reads. "As I do each year, I look forward to celebrating Mass in honor of Saint Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, and the Patron Saint of this Archdiocese, to begin the feast, and pray that the parade would continue to be a source of unity for all of us."
The prohibition had become a problem: Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio refused to march and Guinness beer dropped its sponsorship.
"Those of us who are Irish and LGBT would watch this city celebrate and know we weren't welcome," former City Council speaker Christine Quinn, who boycotted the event for decades, told the Daily News.
"Some people might think: What's the big deal? It's a parade?" Quinn told the paper. "But parades matter. They're events where people get to be proud of who they are, and some people were left out."
Other gay groups can apply to march in future years, parade committee spokesman Bill O'Reilly said.
In the past, organizers said gays were free to march but only with other groups and not with banners identifying them as gay. Most marching units in the parade carry identifying banners. There are about 320 units in next year's parade, the committee said.
The committee said its "change of tone and expanded inclusiveness is a gesture of goodwill to the LGBT community in our continuing effort to keep the parade above politics."
The statement said the parade was "remaining loyal to church teachings." O'Reilly said Dolan was "very supportive" of the change.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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