Gay group to march in NYC St. Patrick's Day Parade

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Gay group to march in NYC St. Patrick's Day Parade
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 17 : Thousands of people attend the 253rd annual St. Patrick's Day Parade along Fifth Avenue in New York City on March 17, 2014. Some members of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) protest against the exclusion of their community from the St. Patrick's Day Parade. Crowds appeared to be thinner in past years due to the cold weather. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Woman protesting for gay rights at St. Patricks Day parade, NYC.
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 17 : Thousands of people attend the 253rd annual St. Patrick's Day Parade along Fifth Avenue in New York City on March 17, 2014. Some members of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) protest against the exclusion of their community from the St. Patrick's Day Parade. Crowds appeared to be thinner in past years due to the cold weather. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 17 : Thousands of people attend the 253rd annual St. Patrick's Day Parade along Fifth Avenue in New York City on March 17, 2014. Some members of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) protest against the exclusion of their community from the St. Patrick's Day Parade. Crowds appeared to be thinner in past years due to the cold weather. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Gay rights supporters protest against the exclusion of the gay community from the St. Patrick's Day parade during the annual event in New York on March 17, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 17: Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists protest the participation of NYPD members during the 250th annual St. Patrick's Day parade March 17, 2011 in New York City. The group, Irish Queers, says the parade excludes LGBT marchers and that NYPD participation violates city human rights code. The parade honors the patron saint of Ireland and marched for the first time in the U.S. on March 17, 1762, fourteen years before the Declaration of Independence. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
BOSTON, : Spectators react to the Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston during their appearance in the belated South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade 28 March 1993. (Photo credit should read JOHN MOTTERN/AFP/Getty Images)
Gay rights supporters protest against the exclusion of the gay community from the St. Patrick's Day parade during the annual event in New York on March 17, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
Gay rights supporters protest against the exclusion of the gay community from the St. Patrick's Day parade during the annual event in New York on March 17, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
Gay rights supporters protest against the exclusion of the gay community from the St. Patrick's Day parade during the annual parade, in New York, March 17 2014. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
Gay rights supporters protest against the exclusion of the gay community from the St. Patrick's Day parade during the annual event in New York on March 17, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
Artist Gilbert Baker, designer of the Rainbow Flag, is draped with the flag while holding a banner that reads "Boycott Homophobia" before the start of the St. Patrick's Day parade, Monday, March 17, 2014 in New York. The city's parade stepped off Monday without Mayor Bill de Blasio marching along with the crowds of kilted Irish-Americans and bagpipers amid a dispute over whether participants can carry pro-gay signs. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
St. Patrick's Day parade, NYC
Bagpiper at St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City
Couple at St. Patrick's day parade, New York, NY
St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York City
Bagpiper at St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City
NYC Politico John T. Pat Clancy acting as Grand Marshall for the St. Patrick's Day Parade. (Photo by Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
NYC Politico John T. Pat Clancy acting as Grand Marshall for the St. Patrick's Day Parade. (Photo by Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
NYC Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Photo by Brian Ach/WireImage)
Marching band at St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City
Woman playing bagpipes at St Patrick's Day parade in New York City
Marching band at the 1987 St Patrick's Day Parade, NY City (Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 16: St. Patrick's Day Parade (Photo by Dan Farrell/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
A man enjoying the 1987 St Patrick's Day Parade, NY City (Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)
Boy watching the 1987 St Patrick's Day Parade, NY City (Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 17: Bagpipers march past St. Patrick's Cathedral during the St. Patrick's Day Parade. (Photo by Misha Erwitt/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 17: Parade-goers attend the 251st annual St. Patrick's Day parade on March 17, 2012 in New York, United States. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 17: Parade-goers attend the 251st annual St. Patrick's Day parade on March 17, 2012 in New York, United States. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 17: Parade-goers attend the 251st annual St. Patrick's Day parade on March 17, 2012 in New York, United States. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images)
Parade participants make their way up 5th Avenue during the 252th New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade on March 16, 2013. AFP PHOTO/TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
A parade participant makes his way up 5th Avenue during the 252th New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade on March 16, 2013. AFP PHOTO/TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 17: A parade-goer attend the 251st annual St. Patrick's Day parade on March 17, 2012 in New York, United States. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 17: Parade-goers attend the 251st annual St. Patrick's Day parade on March 17, 2012 in New York, United States. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images)
St Patrick's Day revelers walk along a street after watching St Patrick's Day parade on Fifth Avenue in New York, March 17, 2011. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
St Patrick's Day revelers leave a pub after attending St Patrick's Day parade on Fifth Avenue in New York, March 17, 2011. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 17: Parade-goers attend the 251st annual St. Patrick's Day parade on the March 17, 2012 in New York, United States. (Photo by Matthew Eisman/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 17: Parade-goers attends the 251st annual St. Patrick's Day parade on the March 17, 2012 in New York, United States. (Photo by Matthew Eisman/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 17: A parade-goer attends the 251st annual St. Patrick's Day parade on the March 17, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Matthew Eisman/WireImage)
Parade-goers watch the 251st St Patrick's Day Parade up 5th Avenue in New York on March 17, 2012. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: Bagpipers make their way up 5th Avenue during the 244th New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade 17 March 2005. The parade is the largest St. Patrick's Day parade in the world. AFP PHOTO/Timothy A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 17: Revelers show their colors during the city's 239th St, Patrick's Day Parade. (Photo by Susan Watts/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
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By JIM FITZGERALD
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- Organizers of the world's largest St. Patrick's Day Parade say they're ending a ban and allowing a gay group to march under its own banner for the first time.

The prohibition on identified gay groups in the centuries-old New York parade had made participation a political issue. Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio refused to march this year, and Guinness beer dropped its sponsorship.

The parade committee, in a statement made available to The Associated Press, said on Wednesday that OUT(at)NBCUniversal, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender support group at the company that broadcasts the parade, would be marching up Manhattan's Fifth Avenue on March 17 under an identifying banner.

It's unclear how the group was chosen: whether OUT(at)NBCUniversal, which is described on its website as "the affinity group for LGBT & Straight Ally employees at NBCUniversal," was invited by the organizers or applied. Parade directors voted unanimously to include the group, the statement said.

Other gay groups can apply to march in future years, spokesman Bill O'Reilly said.

In the past, organizers said gays were free to march but only with other groups and not with banners identifying them as gay. Most marching units in the parade carry identifying banners. There are about 320 units in next year's parade, the committee said.

The committee said its "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."

The statement said the parade was "remaining loyal to church teachings," and O'Reilly said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is to be the parade's grand marshal next year, was "very supportive" of the change.

Dolan said last year he supported the participation of gay people.

"I know that there are thousands and thousands of gay people marching in this parade," he said. "And I'm glad they are."

Police Commissioner William Bratton marched last year with a contingent of uniformed officers. Gay activists held a news conference before the march to say officers should not participate in uniform.

Uniformed city workers, marching bands with bagpipes, traditional Irish dancers and politicians are traditional participants at the parade, which began in 1762 and can draw hundreds of thousands of participants and spectators.

The committee's statement welcoming OUT(at)NBCUniversal said, "Organizers have diligently worked to keep politics - of any kind - out of the parade in order to preserve it as a single and unified cultural event. Paradoxically, that ended up politicizing the parade."

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