First Gay Group Marches In NYC St. Patrick's Day Parade
DON GONYEA, HOST:
Tens of thousands of marchers walked up Fifth Avenue in New York City today for the nation's largest St. Patrick's Day Parade.
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GONYEA: Bagpipers, firefighters and police officers strutted their stuff. And for the first time ever, so did a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group under its own banner. LGBT groups have pushed to march in the event for decades. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang was at the parade and reports some gay activists were still protesting today.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Amidst the drumming...
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WANG: ...And the cheers...
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WANG: ...Was a familiar refrain from protesters at the country's oldest celebration of Irish heritage.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Let Irish gays march. Let Irish gays march.
WANG: That's LGBT activist group Irish Queers calling for more openly gay groups to be allowed to march under their own banners. The one LGBT group that was allowed to march is called Out@NBCUniversal. They are employees of NBC, the parade's broadcaster. Ann Northrop of Manhattan says allowing one group is not enough.
ANN NORTHROP: I'm here because the St. Patrick's Day Parade organizers think they made a compromise, but in fact, it's all a corporate deal. It has nothing to do with really opening up the parade and welcoming gay people in and certainly not Irish gay people.
WANG: Parade organizers say they have welcomed LGBT marchers to join with other non-LGBT groups in the past. But Hilary Beirne, the parade's executive secretary, says recent protests and negative publicity pushed organizers into allowing the parade's first openly gay group to march together with their own sign.
HILARY BEIRNE: It was a logical step based on recent years' events and society changes. And this was the group that we selected to ensure the integrity of our parade.
WANG: The decision to include them came after Guinness and Heineken dropped their corporate sponsorships last year in protest of the ban on openly gay groups. And now both beer makers are back. Craig Robinson, a member of Out@NBCUniversal, says his employer and group saw joining this year's parade as an opportunity.
CRAIG ROBINSON: We know progress sometimes comes in small steps and that by being the first group, that it would perhaps make it easier for other groups to march in subsequent years.
BRENDAN FAY: This has never been about a gay group. It's been about Irish LGBT people out and among our own community.
WANG: Brendan Fay started his own LGBT-friendly parade called St. Pat's For All 15 years ago. It's become the go-to event for the current mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio. He boycotted both last and this year's Fifth Avenue parade, despite the change by parade organizers, a change that doesn't sit well with parade-goer Ed Riley of New York's Westchester County.
ED RILEY: Gay groups should not be allowed in the parade because if you operate as a gay group, the immediate assumption is that you are fostering or encourage that type of activity.
WANG: But for Stacy Decker of Middletown, N.Y., adding an LGBT group is welcome news, though she says she respects the views of more conservative parade organizers.
STACY DECKER: I think it's great if everybody can be included, but I also think that they're entitled to their beliefs and they shouldn't be forced to include everybody.
WANG: The TV broadcast of the parade did not include every group in this year's parade. This year's only openly gay group was scheduled to start marching after the broadcast ended. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York.
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