For the first time since 1991, an L.G.B.T.+ group was allowed to march in this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
The Lavender and Green Alliance, also known as Muintir Aerach na hÉireann in Gaelic, marched in the parade, along with 300 supporters and activists who have worked since 1994 for the right to participate. Among the attendees, former speaker of the New York City Council Christine Quinn, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Edith Windsor, the 88-year old woman who sued the federal government over the Defense of Marriage Act and won in the Supreme Court.
Brendan Fay, the group’s founder, is himself an Irish immigrant and said that his fight for an inclusive St. Patrick’s Day has spanned more than 20-years.
“As a movement we have made great strides, we have struggled for transformation for law, for marriage, for equal employment laws, for immigration law and now we can add this new dimension: cultural life,” he said in an interview before the parade. “When we started out, we didn’t think the road would be so long, or at times the struggle so hard but the companionship and friendships have sustained us and kept us going.”
The last time Fay was allowed to march in the New York City parade was on March 17, 1991, when a small group of gay and lesbians were allowed to march in the parade, but could not carry a banner. As a consolation, then Mayor David N. Dinkins agreed to march with them in a parade that was marked by the abuse that both Dinkins and the marchers faced.
“People remember the screams, the hate from the sidelines. I marched up that avenue for the first time in my life as openly gay Irishman,” Fay said. “As we walked without our banner, it was, ironically, a liberating moment for me as well.”
Dinkins boycotted the parade for the rest of his term. Mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, however, ended the mayoral boycott of parade until de Blasio in 2014 said that he would not attend until he felt there was a greater sense of inclusivity of L.G.B.T.+ communities in the parade.
“The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a New York City tradition, but for years, Irish L.G.B.T. New Yorkers could not show their pride,” de Blasio told The Associated Press on Mar. 2. “Finally, they can celebrate their heritage by marching in a parade that now represents progress and equality.”
Fay said he spent the next 25-years working with other activist organizations to find a way to celebrate both his Irish heritage and his sexuality. In 1994 he formed the Lavender and Green Alliance, and
“This began years of protests and arrests and exclusion of L.G.B.T. groups from St. Patrick’s Day parades,” he said. “People told me they wanted to learn to speak the language, and to learn more about the history, they wanted to learn Irish dancing as same sex couples and so we began Lavender and Green Alliance. Our work around the parade continued but we did a lot of cultural work as well, as far as reclaiming our own language and recovering our own place in our own Irish story and history.”
Fay said he could not be more pleased with the decision of the parade committee this year to allow Lavender and Green to march openly in this year’s parade.
“The breakthrough come with this year’s parade, [John L.] Lahey and the members of the board extended to us an invitation to march in this year’ St. Patrick’s Day parade,” he said. “Together we cross an historic threshold that we have worked for, sought and longed for, for a quarter of a century. Our moment has come.”