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In A First, Irish LGBT Organization Leads NYC's St. Paddy's Parade

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today is St. Patrick's Day, and all across the country, the Irish and let's say the honorary Irish are celebrating with parties and parades. And one of the biggest, as you might imagine, was the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City. It's an event that dates back to 1762. And while today's a celebration for many, for some there's been a bit of a sad history, because for several years, LGBT groups were not allowed to march in the parade. That all changed in 2016, when the organizers opened the door for all groups to join. And today's procession saw, for the first time, an Irish LGBT organization, the Lavender and Green Alliance, led the parade from the front. Joining us now is Brendan Fay, founder and president of the Lavender and Green Alliance to tell us more about what the moment meant to him and other members of the group. Brendan, thank you so much for joining us. Happy St. Pat's Day to you.

BRENDAN FAY: Happy St. Patrick's Day to you and to all of your listeners. (Speaking Irish). That in our own language.

MARTIN: How was it? How did the parade go?

FAY: It was an incredibly moving experience. We stepped off in the front section of the parade carrying our banner, Lavender and Green Alliance, and we were cheered all along the avenue. For me, it was like the heart of Irish America opened up today.

MARTIN: You did fight for a long time to have this happen. For people who don't maybe know much about it, have never been to the parade, why do you think it was so important to you to be in the parade?

FAY: Parades are important rituals in America. Look, we parade as well as in Ireland. But I must say I didn't appreciate the significance of parades until I was an immigrant in New York. And then like everybody else, I sought out my own community. Of course there's my LGBT community, but I'm Irish. And along with my other LGBT friends, we tried to march in our own community's parade. Parades or like vital expressions of cultural life. Every community, every ethnic group, has its moment on the Avenue in New York City. And March 17 is the Irish moment. Of course this weekend, visiting New York, we started out at Gracie Mansion. The mayor and the first lady of New York hosted a breakfast for the Irish community to welcome the Irish prime minister, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, an out and proud openly gay man. Last night, a few of us met him down on Christopher Street, and we met him in the Stonewall bar.

MARTIN: Wow.

FAY: I have to tell you, I never imagined all those years ago when we were beginning this struggle, that one day I would be meeting the prime minister of Ireland on Christopher Street in the Stonewall bar. It was a very profound moment, and we hope, and we'll continue to work for the day when all our parades, all over the country will simply be open and welcoming. And someday we'll look back and wonder what was all that about? But may the road open and rise to welcome all of us. We're all Irish on this St. Patrick's Day.

MARTIN: All right. That's Brendan Fay, founder and president of the Lavender and Green Alliance of New York. And he was kind enough to join us from New York, where he's celebrating a wonderful day at the parade. Brendan Fay, thank you so much for speaking with us.

FAY: Thank you very much. (Speaking Irish). Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.