30/09/2015 05:17 BST | Updated 30/09/2015 05:59 BST

New York St Patrick's Day Parade Drops Ban On Gay Groups

Artist Gilbert Baker, designer of the Rainbow Flag, is draped with the flag while holding a banner that reads

Irish gay rights campaigners have scored a landmark victory in the fight for sexual equality, after a St Patrick's Day march committee dropped their ban on LGBT contingents taking part.

The annual event in New York City, which regularly attracts 150,000 marchers and over a million tourists, is described by some Irish-Americans as "an event on par with the World Series - even as big as Christmas", but has long forbade groups displaying banners identifying their sexuality.

Furore over openly LGBT people being excluded from the event came to a head last year, when Bill deBlasio became the first NYC Mayor in a generation to boycott the event.

Two major sponsors, Guiness and Heineken, withdrew their support too - forcing parade organisers to allow another broadcaster NBC, another large commercial backer, to send a contingent of LGBT employees, a compromise considered unsatisfactory by many activists.

In July this year, John Dunleavy was ejected as chief director of the march, and replaced by Quinnipiac University president Dr John Lahey, who had reportedly been lobbying internally for the inclusion of LGBT participants.

Demonstrators protest being disallowed from marching

But this week, the St Patrick's Day committee bowed to pressure and announced it would allow an Irish gay-rights group to march in the 2016 parade, carrying a banner, for the first time in the event's history.

A board meeting made the seminal decision to allow an Irish LGBT group, 'the Lavender and Green Alliance', to march.

It's co-founder, Brendan Fay, hailed the news as "a historic moment", adding that Tuesday's news marked a transformation for his group from "cultural outsiders to insiders".

"This is it. This is a historic moment. It’s amazing," he said.

"We have been on a long and winding road to equality, a road marked by painful exclusion and years of protests and arrests.

"With this decision, we are transformed from cultural outsiders to insiders who can share in the St Patrick’s Day Parade, a vital expression of our heritage and culture."

New committee director Fay said in a statement to The Journal: "Since 2016 marks the 100th Anniversary of the Easter Rising, the birth of Irish independence, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade March 17 is a special opportunity for renewed commitment to Irish values and traditions, and the Irish role in the 21st Century.

"We are working with the Irish government in this anniversary year to teach our young people the lessons of sacrifice and heroism, of love and tolerance, embodied in the Irish spirit."