Gay Group Marching in NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade Is a Major Step Forward

An end to protests at NYC’s St. Patrick’s Day parade? Hopefully.

St. Patrick’s Day will be more LGBT-inclusive for New Yorkers next year, with organizers of that city’s parade announcing lesbian and gay people will, for the first time, be welcomed to participate via an LGBT contingent. Further news was made when N.Y.C’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the 2015 parade’s grand marshal, responded positively to the announcement of this change.

In a unanimous vote, the committee responsible for the St. Patrick’s Day parade selected OUT@NBCUniversal to march. According to the National Catholic Reporter:

“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 committee’s statement said the parade was ‘remaining loyal to church teachings…’ “

This decision comes after years of protest (a quick history is available via The New York Times here) over the exclusion of explicitly LGBT groups from the more than 300 contingents which march annually. The controversy came to a head last year when Guinness withdrew its sponsorship of the event and New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and other politicians  boycotted the paradeIrish Central also reports that NBC, which airs the parade every year, threatened to withdraw if LGBT groups were not allowed to participate.

Cardinal Dolan said he supported parade organizer’s decision, noting that the archbishops of New York have never had authority over the parade and that he “appreciated the cooperation of parade organizers in keeping the parade close to its Catholic heritage.” David Gibson of Religion News Service points out that while Dolan’s comments are progress, history tells a slightly different story:

“In 1993, then-Cardinal John O’Connor, facing gay protesters who staged a sit-in during the parade, vowed that he “could never even be perceived as compromising Catholic teaching” by entertaining their admission as an identifiable group in the event…”

Still, Catholics and LGBT advocates are welcoming both the parade committee’s decision and Dolan’s acceptance of it. The New York Times reports that many in New York’s Irish community support the decision, and there is a sense of relief that this controversy is over.Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, was quoted in a separate New York Times article about the decision:

“It’s about time. Discrimination has no place on America’s streets, least of all on Fifth Avenue.”

An Associated Press story captured the remarks of Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry.  The story stated that DeBernardo

“… thinks Dolan feels freer to take positions like his stand on the parade now that he is no longer the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

” ‘I think he’s able to be more of a pastor to the people of New York than he had been when he was on the national stage, bishops primarily are pastors and teachers and I think he’s fulfilling that role…I think Pope Francis has been teaching the bishops what being a pastor means.’ “

DeBernardo also wrote a letter to the editor published in the New York Times today which called the ban’s end “one more step toward the full equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Catholic circles.” He continues:

“Too often, Catholics are told that the church cannot change its practices and policies about lesbians and gay men. The parade committee’s decision shows that even long-held and deeply entrenched prejudices can be overcome.

“This decision is a victory not only for lesbian and gay groups but for all Catholics, and indeed for all Americans. It not only recognizes the contributions of lesbians and gay men, but it also liberates others from paralyzing prejudices.

“Like St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, the parade committee members are driving the worn and self-defeating anti-gay prejudices out of their own hearts and organization.”

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day through this parade has been a high-point for Irish Americans, and indeed New Yorkers of all backgrounds, since the late 18th-century. These celebrations will be even better now that LGBT people are welcomed in the spirit of Catholicism’s long tradition of social justice — and perhaps most pertinent here, the Irish charism of unbounded and warm hospitality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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