An openly gay organization marched for the first time in New York City’s St. Patrick's Day Parade on Tuesday, although controversy over whether organizers had done enough to include LGBT participants lingered over the festivities.
Organizers announced last September that the group OUT@NBCUniversal, whose members work at the television network that broadcasts the parade, would be added to the parade's lineup, ending a ban on gay and lesbian participation in the city’s largest celebration of Irish American heritage.
But the decision to admit just one group failed to quell calls for wider inclusion of gays.
An advocacy group, Irish Queers, which has sought for years to join the marchers, staged a protest along the parade route Tuesday, and Mayor Bill de Blasio and some City Council members also boycotted the parade because they said more should be done to include the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
John Francis Mulligan, a member of Irish Queers, called the decision to only include OUT@NBCUniversal a "corporate solution."
"It's not an Irish group. ... All we want is to participate as 350 groups do with a banner," Mulligan said.
He said about 75 people joined his group's protest on the sidelines of the parade route. Some of them carried a large banner that read, "Let Irish Gays March in the Irish Parade."
It was the second year in a row that the mayor boycotted the city’s main St. Patrick’s Day parade, which proceeds up Fifth Avenue from East 44th to East 79th streets and draws tens of thousands of spectators. A statement released by the mayor's office stated, "The decision by the Fifth Avenue parade organizers to include one group from NBC, while a step in the right direction, is still not inclusive enough."
The mayor did march in two smaller St. Patrick’s Day parades this month -- the Rockaway St. Patrick's Parade in Queens and the St. Pat's for All parade in Sunnyside, also in Queens, which includes gay and lesbian groups.
Last September, parade spokesman Bill O'Reilly said the decision to include OUT@NBCUniversal was aimed at ending the political debate that surrounded the 252-year-old event.
Despite the sidelines protest, along Fifth Avenue on Tuesday spectators crowded beside barriers to see the bagpipers, high school marching bands and dance groups in the parade. Some said the question of whether to include more gay groups was not an issue for them.
"I think they should be allowed," said Harvey Lynch, 72, a tourist from Newcastle in County Down, Northern Ireland. "Everybody else is here, why not them?"
Gayle Riordan-Van Dyke, 63, of Oyster Bay, N.Y., agreed. "We're all human beings," she said. "Why shouldn’t they march?"