March turns a corner: Bklyn St. Patrick’s Day Parade formally welcomes LGBTQ participants for first time in history

Follow the rainbow: Marchers can openly wave the rainbow flag at the Brooklyn St. Patrick’s Day Parade for the first time on March 17.
Brooklyn Irish LGBTQ Organization

Organizers of the borough’s eponymous St. Patrick’s Day parade this year will formally welcome local LGBTQ marchers for the first time in the procession’s 44-year history — a historic change for the event that excluded those communities for too long, according to a longtime Irish-American LGBTQ advocate.

“It is ground breaking, it is historic, it is a huge moment,” said Brendan Fay, the founder of advocacy group the Lavender and Green Alliance, whom police previously arrested for protesting the local march, and who for decades has advocated for more inclusive St. Patrick’s Day parades across the five boroughs.

Leaders of the Brooklyn Irish LGBTQ Organization announced on Feb. 26 that parade organizers accepted their group as one of dozens of entities that will march in the March 17 procession through Park Slope, encouraging supportive locals of all genders and sexual orientations to walk beside them as they take to the streets without fear of arrest.

“For many years, people within the LGBTQ community had to separate from their identities to march in the parade,” said Lisa Fane, a co-founder of the local Irish LGBTQ organization. “We’re proud of our LGBTQ history and we feel this has been missing in the parade.”

Brooklyn St. Patrick’s Day Parade organizers’ decision to welcome more diverse participants comes years after leaders of the city’s St. Paddy’s Day march through Manhattan invited Fay’s alliance to join that procession in 2015, but as stagers of other borough-based processions, including the March 3 Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day parade, continue to formally exclude LGBTQ marchers.

And the opportunity for LGBTQ Brooklynites to openly celebrate their Irish heritage, and their sexual and gender identities, is a huge victory for advocates — especially Fay, who said he was heartbroken when cops cuffed him along with seven others for “parading without a permit” after they slipped into the ranks of the 1999 Brooklyn St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

“To be Irish and arrested for simply seeking to celebrate Irish heritage and culture with your community was devastating,” he said.

The local Irish LGBTQ group formed by Fane and Matthew McMorrow, both of whom live in Park Slope, filed its application to appear in this year’s parade — which will step off 20 years after the march where police arrested Fay — after spending two years building a coalition of supporters, including local Assemblyman Robert Carroll (D–Park Slope), whose grandfather John Carroll co-founded the annual Kings County Celtic procession back in 1975.

And organizers of the procession — who met with Carroll and the Brooklyn Irish LGBTQ Organization’s leaders several times last month, after receiving the formal application in January — ultimately approved, according to Fane, who said getting them to agree to diversify the parade didn’t require too much persuasion after recent changes to other marches.

“It wasn’t that hard of a sell,” she said.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Fighting Irish: Advocates with the queer Irish group Lavendar and Green Alliance protest their exclusion from the 1999 Brooklyn St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Brendan Fay

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