Astoria resident Brendan Fay got a phone call late Monday evening. One that he had been waiting a quarter of a century to get.
John Lahey, the chairman of the board of directors of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Inc., was on the line inviting the gay rights activist and his Lavender and Green Alliance to join in the 253-year-old Fifth Avenue parade next year, under their own banner.
“The decision to invite an Irish gay organization, The Lavender and Green Alliance, sends a positive message across the Irish cultural landscape,” Fay said. “With the decision we cross a historic threshold and our members will proudly march up Fifth Avenue with our banners.”
The move ends a 25-year boycott of the parade that began in 1991 when the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, made up of largely Irish LGBT immigrants, applied to the march and was denied. Parade organizers declared their march to be a Catholic procession and gay groups were not welcome, setting off massive protests for several years.
“This was huge, incredible news,” Fay said. “It’s an extraordinary moment for the Irish community, for the LGBT community. My phone has been ringing off the hook and it’s hard to describe the joy people are feeling with this announcement.”
Lahey’s invitation comes after the parade’s 18-member board of directors welcomed some new faces this past year. The Quinnipiac University president was behind the inclusion at this year’s parade of Out@NBC, an LGBT employee group at the television network, a move critics said did not go far enough.
A statement from Lahey cited the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Easter Uprising for Irish Independence from the British as the impetus for including Fay’s Lavender and Green Alliance.
“The 2016 parade is a special opportunity for renewed commitment to Irish values and traditions and the Irish role in the 21st century,” Fahey said. “We are working with the Irish government on this anniversary year to teach our young people the lessons of sacrifice and heroism, of love and tolerance, embodied by the Irish spirit.”
Fay said the invite ends a journey on a long and winding road to equality, a road marked by painful exclusion and years of protests and arrests. In 1999, Fay helped create the St. Pat’s for All Parade in Sunnyside, an LGBT-friendy alternative to the traditional march on Fifth Avenue, that drew progressive politicians who joined in the boycott.
“In a year of equality under the law, in the U.S. and in Ireland, the LGBT movement has made great strides in law, in marriage, in immigration. Now we can add the New York St. Patrick’s Parade,” Fay said. “March 17, 2016 will be a marvelous day for the Irish diaspora and for all New Yorkers as we will honor the centenary of the 1916 Rising together. As we carry our Lavender and Green Alliance banner on Fifth Avenue the words from the 1916 proclamation ‘cherishing all the children of the nation equally’ will be profoundly meaningful.”
When he marches up Fifth Avenue, Fay will think of those who struggled with hope and determination and opened the way for the historic announcement—people like his Astoria neighbor Robert Rygor, who led the first protests against the parade, but died from AIDS in 1994.
He’ll also think of City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who has been at the forefront of the campaign of inclusion since the early ’90s as a community activist.
Dromm said that as an openly gay Irish American he was pleased that the parade organizers had opened the doors to the Lavender and Green Alliance.
“This is wonderful news,” Dromm said. “The parade organizers’ historic decision has brought us closer to a fully inclusive St. Patrick’s Day Parade, one that is accessible to all of Ireland’s children. I thank the parade organizers for this giant leap forward.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr
©2015 Community News Group
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