Mayor Bill de Blasio celebrated the end of a long-standing ban on openly gay Irish groups marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, formally lifting his boycott.
Appearing at the Irish Consulate in midtown Manhattan where the deal to end the ban was reached, de Blasio said Thursday he’ll march for the first time of his mayoralty in New York City’s annual event up Fifth Avenue, the 255th parade, on March 17.
“For the last two decades, there’s been a blemish on this city,” said de Blasio, who is also planning to march in two other St. Patrick’s Day parades, including a Queens alternative formed by gay and lesbian groups before the ban was lifted.
About 300 people will be behind the banner of the Lavender & Green Alliance, whose leader, Brendan Fay, had been arrested a dozen times over the years protesting the exclusion.
“Your historic gesture of welcome, like a miracle of hospitality, undoes the anguish and pain of exclusion and discrimination,” Fay told organizers at the consulate.
The parade’s exclusion of gays — a right the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 1995 as First Amendment-protected speech after a challenge to a similar ban in Boston — became a flashpoint in the culture wars of the 1990s.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York who was last year’s grand marshal, did not attend de Blasio’s announcement Thursday and did not appear to send anyone in his stead; organizers and Dolan’s spokesman, Joseph Zwilling, said he was in Missouri.
“The parade is not organized by the archdiocese, and so we do not become involved in determining or commenting on who marches and who does not march,” Zwilling said.
De Blasio said he and Dolan had spoken earlier in the day about the agreement.
Two lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups will be marching at the 2016 parade. Asked whether more such groups might be allowed to participate, parade official Francis McGreal Jr. said: “I think we should get through this year, you know?”
McGreal said at the announcement it was a “hard day.” At one point, he threw his hands up: “It’s time to move forward. What else can we say?”
The push to rescind the ban was accelerated when Ireland’s prime minister visited the city in 2014 and asked Consul General Barbara Jones to oversee negotiations, Jones said.
Rick Hinshaw of the Catholic League, a group that has long backed the gay-group ban, said the league would again not march in this year’s parade. The league began its boycott last year when a single gay group, though not an Irish one, was allowed to march.
Hinshaw said he laments the event being “reduced from its religious roots to just an Irish parade.”