Organizers of the annual New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade said Wednesday that for the first time, an LGBT group will be allowed to march in next year's procession. Local LGBT activists, though, said the group was only allowed because it is associated with the parade's broadcast partner, NBC.
The decision signals a shift by organizers to open the parade to LGBT organizations, but some LGBT activists say they aren't convinced.
"This is a deal that was made behind closed doors between parade organizers and one of their last remaining sponsors, NBC," Irish Queers, a New York City LGBT organization, said in a statement. "It allows NBC's gay employees to march, but embarrassingly has not ended the exclusion of Irish LGBT groups."
The Associated Press first reported that OUT@NBCUniversal, an LGBT support group at NBC Universal, will be the first LGBT organization permitted to march in the parade, which has historically — and controversially — banned such groups for many years. Additionally, organizers said that other LGBT groups are welcome to apply to be included in future parades, but the activists said they are simply not satisfied by the move.
Irish Queers is among many who have demanded full LGBT inclusion in the parade for well over 20 years. The group told BuzzFeed that while it did not apply to march in next year's parade, activists there fear LGBT groups will continue to be excluded and, for that reason, it will again protest at the parade in 2015 as well as call on elected officials and sponsors to boycott the event. Major sponsors like Guinness yanked support of the 2014 parade over the LGBT ban.
New York statewide LGBT rights group, Empire State Pride Agenda, also expressed concerns following news of the decision. Nathan M. Schaefer, executive director at ESPA, described the decision to allow the one group as "disappointing and self-serving," and that the inclusion of OUT@NBCUniversal comes at "the exclusion of all others."
"As New York's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization, we call on all leaders, community members and allies to demand that the organizers go even further," Schaefer said in a statement. "We call on them to take a bolder stand for inclusion by welcoming other groups that truly represent lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Irish Americans to march in 2015."
New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, too, issued a statement in response to the change, calling it merely a "first step" and saying, "there is still more work to be done. I look forward to a parade that includes all LGBT groups that wish to march."
National LGBT organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD also reacted to the development. HRC commended parade organizers, saying it hopes St. Patrick's Day Parade organizers in Boston follow suit in allowing LGBT groups. GLAAD's President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said, "It's about time."
When reached by BuzzFeed about participating in the parade, NBCUniversal issued the following statement by Craig Robinson, executive vice president and chief diversity officer for NBCUniversal:
"NBCUniversal's LGBT Employee Resource Group is proud to be marching under the organization's "OUT@NBCUniversal" banner in the 2015 St. Patrick's Day Parade. We welcome the Parade Committee's decision to accept OUT@NBCUniversal's application to march and enthusiastically embrace the gesture of inclusion. Our employees, families and friends look forward to joining in this time-honored celebration of Irish culture and heritage."
NBCUniversal did not respond to a request to comment on the allegations made by Irish Queers. A request for comment was also made to New York St. Patrick's Day Parade Spokesman Bill O'Reilly.