As New York City held its 254th St. Patrick’s Day Parade Tuesday, with Irish Americans and members of the Irish diaspora celebrating amid a flurry of green, members of an LGBTQ group officially marched in the parade for the first time, but not everyone was happy.
“It was basically a publicity stunt to deal with the gay problem,” says Gaby Cryan, a third-generation Irish American and member of the Irish Queers, a group that’s long protested the parade’s exclusionary policy.
Members of the Irish Queers celebrated the time-honored tradition in the darkness of the iconic Stonewall Inn in the West Village, far removed from the festivities on Fifth Avenue. It is the 24th year that the group has been denied entry into the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade to represent the Irish LGBTQ community in NYC. Before heading to Stonewall, the Irish Queers protested the parade from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue.
This year, the parade’s organizers let Out@NBCUniversal, a group of LGBTQ employees from the network that televised the parade, march at 3 p.m., at the tail-end of the nearly five-hour-long event.
Parade organizers lifted the ban on the participation of openly gay groups in September 2014, and Out@NBCUniversal announced it would march shortly thereafter. (Just days before the 2014 parade, both Guinness and Heineken pulled their sponsorship over the matter, but the beer companies later agreed to sponsor it again.)
The attempt at inclusion hasn’t swayed NYC’s Irish Queers, who on their blog wrote that Out@NBCUniversal is a “corporate gay/straight/marketing alliance that’s marching in the antigay parade to the exclusion of the actual Irish queer groups who have been shoved aside for the last quarter century.”
“They are not active members of the Irish lesbian and gay community,” Cryan tells the Voice. “A corporate employee group doesn’t represent me. I don’t work at NBC. They weren’t repping an Irish group. They were repping a corporation.
“It doesn’t make sense that the parade’s corporate sponsor’s gay group would be allowed to participate and not us,” adds Cryan. The move, she says, was a way to “brush us off and not be labeled homophobic.”
Like other members of the group, Cryan agreed that Out@NBCUniversal was included in the parade through a “backroom deal,” as LGBTQ groups within the Irish community in New York City were not invited to the negotiating table.
“Having only one delegation associated with one company that allows members of the LGBTQ community is, obviously, a pretty narrow concession,” de Blasio said at the time. “We’d like to see something that’s more inclusive.” This is the second year that he and other elected officials have boycotted the event.
NBC’s executive vice president and chief diversity officer, Craig Robinson, said Out@NBC was able to secure a spot because of the “multi-year relationship” between senior NBC executive Frank Comerford and the parade committee.
In September 2014, Irish Queers formally applied to take part in the 2015 parade on the steps of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. “The parade committee did not respond to our application directly,” Cryan says. The group learned from a media outlet that spoke to parade organizers that its application had been turned down due to lack of space.
This disregard for the Irish LGBTQ community in New York City is something the Irish Queers say they can’t quite fathom, as gay groups in Ireland and the rest of the United States march in St. Patrick’s Day parades. “The fact that NYC is behind all these places is very strange. I guess we’re very scary,” Cryan says with a laugh.
Still, Cryan concedes that Out@NBCUniversal’s participation in the parade marks a significant shift in the attitude toward the LGBTQ presence at the parade. When the group marched down the length of Fifth Avenue, they were greeted with cheers and applause, a far cry from the boos and AIDS jokes that were made back in the early Nineties when ILGO marched in spite of the ban as guests of Mayor David Dinkins.
“When I was first there, people were throwing beer bottles,” Cryan says. “Today, people were more supportive.” For their next step, as they wait to finally march in NYC St. Patrick’s Day parade, the Irish Queers intend to continue to investigate the legality of how the parade is executed.
Not everyone was supportive of Out@NBCUniversal’s inclusion:
But one member of Out@NBCUniversal remained upbeat, if not exactly possessing a DIY, grassroots spirit.
“We’re doing what we can to make advances,” said a member of the group, who declined to give his name and directed a reporter to NBC’s communications team.