NYC St. Patrick's Day Parade featured gay groups, excluded pro-lifers

by Karen L. Willoughby |

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)Members of the NBC Universal Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Straight Ally Employee Alliance group march in the 254th New York City St. Patrick's Day parade up 5th Avenue in the Manhattan borough of New York March 17, 2015. It was the first openly gay group, but not necessarily Irish, to march in this event. Organizers say the parade had always been open to people with different views and practices about sexuality, just not to groups marching under their own banners. The focus had been to celebrate an Irish heritage, not inclusiveness.

NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – New York City's St. Patrick's Day Parade allowed a homosexual group to march with a banner, a first in its 253-year history, but denied a right-to-life group to participate contends Elizabeth Rex, president of The Children First Foundation, a pro-adoption group.

The alternative-sexuality group Out@NBCUniversal was one of 150 or more marching units that paraded 2.1 miles down the center of Manhattan in celebration of the life of St. Patrick, who died March 17, 461, after devoting 40 years of his life to Christianizing Ireland.

Rex had stinging words for parade organizers who denied pro-life groups like hers an equal opportunity.

"They should be ashamed," Rex told Christian Examiner. "You want to believe people. When you finally realize you've been duped, I think it needs to be exposed. I feel double-crossed and lied to. I feel betrayed."

New York City's St. Patrick's Day Parade started in 1762, when homesick Irish soldiers in the British army decided to wear the green that was denied them in Ireland, and to flaunt their colors down the road of this new land. In 1848 several Irish neighborhood groups combined their parades into what today is the world's oldest civilian parade and the largest parade in the United States, with perhaps 2 million parade-watchers at this year's event.

Historically, no groups with their own agenda could march in the St. Patrick's Day Parade, wrote Bill Donohue, president since 1993 of the Catholic League in New York City, in a column on the organization's website. That meant no pro-life groups, no homosexual groups, no political groups. It was strictly to celebrate Irish culture and customs.

The St. Patrick's Day parade was to be one of marchers only – no animals; no motorized vehicles – of high school, college, community and organizational bands, dancers, pipers, and rank and file government officials, all led by the National Guard's 69th Regiment.

It is a parade that bans even beer to ensure its family-friendly nature.

After a 30-year discussion about lifting the ban on homosexual groups, parade officials changed the policy last September. A gay advocacy group would be allowed to march with a banner, and so would a pro-life group, according to the Wall Street Journal.

That is not what happened.

The New York Times reported that a delegation of about 100 employees from NBC/Universal, which had the contract to televise the event, marched with a banner. There was no pro-life group, nor pro-life banner.

"I was told in a letter from the chairman of the parade committee that they had selected a right-to-life group and thank you for all the things you do for children," Rex told Christian Examiner. "It [the right-to-life group] was going to be led by a Knights of Columbus honor guard."

The Knights of Columbus is a Catholic fraternal organization that is a leader among the anti-abortion movement across the nation.

"I know a lot of the [pro-life] groups and none of them had been asked or selected," Rex said. "I went back to the parade officials and they kept saying that there was" going to be a pro-life group and banner.

"But it became clear a day or two before the parade that there wasn't," continued the president of The Children First Foundation. "I thought what they [parade officials] have done was very unfair. I feel betrayed."

So does Donohue, who withdrew the Catholic League from the parade as a protest.

"My reasons for withdrawing from the parade have nothing to do with [Grand Marshal] Cardinal Dolan or with gays," he wrote. "It has to do with being betrayed by the parade committee. They not only told me one thing and did another, they decided to include a gay group that is neither Catholic nor Irish, while stiffing pro-life Catholics. This is as stunning as it is indefensible."

John Francis Mulligan, a member of Irish Queers which The New York Times reported is "a leading advocacy group for gay and lesbian Irish-Americans," also objected to a non-Irish group participating in the parade.

"This is only significant in that it's a back-room deal between NBC and the parade's organizers," Mulligan said. "And Out@NBC/Universal isn't even an Irish group!"

John Lahey, vice chairman of the St. Patrick's Day Parade's organizing committee, said the parade had always been open to people with different views and practices about sexuality, just not to groups marching under their own banners.

"The purpose of this parade is not inclusiveness as an end, it's a parade to celebrate St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland," Lahey told The New York Times."