MIDTOWN — The St. Patrick's Day Parade will end its longstanding ban on openly gay groups marching in the annual event, following pressure from politicians and some of its signature sponsors, organizers announced Wednesday.
LGBT groups were previously not allowed to participate openly in the March 17 parade. The St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee said in a statement that the event has always included gay marchers, and that in recent years gay participants have been encouraged to join any of the existing 320 marching groups.
"This grand cultural gem has become a target for politicization that it neither seeks nor wants because some groups could join the march but not march with their own banner," organizers said.
“This change of tone and expanded inclusiveness is a gesture of goodwill to the LGBT community in our continuing effort to keep the parade above politics as it moves into its 253rd year, all the while remaining loyal to church teachings and the principles that have guided the parade committee for so many decades.”
OUT@NBCUniversal will be the only LGBT group participating in next year's parade, but more groups are welcome to apply for the 2016 event, a spokesman said.
In March, several marquee sponsors — including Irish beer giant Guinness, Heineken and the Boston Beer Company — dropped their support of the parade because marchers were not allowed to identify themselves as LGBT.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council also boycotted the parade last year because of its policy against LGBT groups.
"This is a welcome first step and a good day for New Yorkers who believe in fairness, equality, and human rights," said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. "For far too long the St. Patrick's Day Parade excluded New Yorkers just because of who they to love. I am happy organizers finally realized that this parade is better when all are invited."
A spokesman for Diageo, which owns Guinness, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"We are proud to be the 1st #LGBT group to march in the NYC St. Patrick's Day parade," tweeted OUT@NBCUniversal after the announcement.