By Patrick Markey
Breaking a controversial pattern of exclusion and protest, a Queens St. Patrick’s parade committee has decided to open its ranks to gay and lesbian participants when it marches through Woodside next year.
The parade, which will make its way from Sunnyside to Woodside Avenue on March 5, will be the first in New York City to allow representatives from gay groups to take part in a St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
The Woodside St. Patrick’s Parade and Irish Fair committee will be "open and welcoming of groups excluded from the annual ethnic celebrations," according to a press release from the group.
"Working on this parade reflects the values I grew up with in Ireland — respecting and enjoying the diversity of life and of who we are as Irish people," said Ellen Duncan, co-chair of the parade with Brendan Fay.
"This is a parade we can now come to as a family, and enjoy the company of our many friends, whether Catholic, Protestant, gay or straight," Duncan said.
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Support for the parade comes from many quarters of the Irish community, including representatives from the clergy, business circles and local politicians and celebrities, such as council-member Walter McCaffrey and Malachy McCourt.
Fay, who is also head of the Irish gay group the Lavender and Green Alliance, said the decision ended a decade of exclusion for the city’s gay Irish community.
The Alliance last year tried to negotiate with a Bronx parade committee to allow its members to march in Throggs Neck area. Fay said its members had originally been invited to participate in the parade, but the march organizers had rescinded the invitation after the news appeared in the Irish Echo.
Another gay group, The Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, has fought since 1991 to march in the Fifth Avenue St. Patrick’s Day Parade under its own banner. Parade organizers have denied it permission, saying the event is a private affair and open to only those invited to participate.
Every year ILGO holds civil disobedience protests on Fifth Avenue before the parade kicks off and is still engaged in legal action to get a protest permit.