NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade Finally Ends Ban on Openly Gay Groups

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Parade watchers cheer on marching bands as they make their way up 5th Avenue  during the St. Patrick's Day Parade on March 17 , 2008 in New York. AFP PHOTO/TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/2008 AFP

Since 1762, the Irish in New York have gathered on March 17 to celebrate their heritage and maybe drink some beer. Not welcome in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade down Fifth Avenue, however, were groups identifying as gay, because Catholics aren’t traditionally into that kind of thing. But following Bill de Blasio’s decision to sit out the parade this year — the first mayor to do so in two decades — to protest the organizers’ exclusionary practices, the next parade will finally enter the 21st century, allowing an LGBT group to march. It’s a step forward, sure, but it also appears to be about the money. Isn’t it always?

Along with de Blasio’s refusal to participate in the 2014 parade, Guinness beer — that holy liquid — dropped its sponsorship of the enormous St. Patrick’s Day event. While there’s as of yet no indication that the brand’s funds will return thanks to the sudden turnaround, their absence seems to have gotten someone’s attention. (The committee, for its part, explained, “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. Paradoxically, that ended up politicizing the parade.”)

But the inaugural gay group to be welcomed also comes with connections to corporate cash. OUT@NBCUniversal, the network’s LGBT support group, will be flying its banner proudly come March 17, after the parade’s organizers voted unanimously to include the group, the Times reports. NBC also happens to be the network that broadcasts the event.

Still, “Other gay groups can apply to march in future years, spokesman Bill O’Reilly said.” (Not that one.) It’s not purely cynical, then, to note that real change comes often when there’s an economic incentive. In this case, it took centuries, but equality did come — it just so happened to be when the bottom line was affected.