MANHATTAN (CN) - New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio joined in the nation's largest and oldest St. Patrick's Day Parade on Thursday after it was announced earlier this month that a ban on openly gay marchers would be lifted.
The mayor's wife, Chirlane McCray, used to identify as a lesbian, a fact that was much-discussed during the Democrat's campaign before he ultimately took office in 2014.
The mayor vowed soon thereafter that he would never step foot on the 7-hour, 35-block parade route that courses through Manhattan's Upper East Side. He sat out of the 2014 and 2015 festivities. Boston mayors meanwhile had sat out 20 years of parades before the city finally let gay-rights groups march in 2015.
New York City's parade organizers changed their policy earlier this month to include marchers under a gay banner.
"Who's ready for a parade?" de Blasio wrote on his official Facebook page just before kickoff. "Let's march!"
The post included an amusing bit-graphic of the mayor donning a rainbow pin - a symbol of gay rights - a pair of Irish flags and marching in step with bagpipers up Fifth Avenue.
"This week, for the first time ever, the entire Irish community will unite to take a first step, together, down Fifth Avenue on St. Patrick's Day," he noted.
One of the groups to participate openly this year is the Lavender and Green Alliance.
"This invitation marks the culmination of a decades-long struggle for the inclusion of Irish LBGT people in this important celebration of our national heritage," the group said in a statement.
Several others touted the decision to be included.
"In this movement we have found friendship, solidarity, and the chance to forgive," wrote Aidan Connolly, executive director of the Irish Arts Center.
Openly gay and Irish councilman Daniel Dromm from Jackson Heights said he was "thrilled to have the opportunity" to march.
"I commend the NYC St. Patrick's Day Parade organizers for moving forward and embracing inclusivity," Dromm said. "This will be a historic celebration of what it means to be Irish and am proud to be a part of it."
The parade marks the 100th anniversary of Ireland's Easter Rising of 1916, a bloody battle in the centuries-old fight to end Britain's rule of Ireland. It passes by the St. Patrick's Cathedral, the home of New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan.
De Blasio called the group's decision to include the GLBT community a "clarion call around the world," when he made his announcement earlier this month to participate.
"People were inspired by the Irish to fight for their rights," the mayor said. "There's no nationality that knows about fighting for justice like the Irish do."
He also touched on the idea of inclusion as he reflected on the 255th parade.
"We remember too that when Irishmen and Irishwomen came to these shores, they were not welcome," he said. "They had to fight to become established in New York and in the United States, and they had to fight for fairness and equality."
De Blasio continued: "New York is the ultimate city of immigrants. It is our nature to embrace and support all peoples."
But the mayor also noted New York City's status as the birthplace of the gay-rights movement after the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village in 1969.
A spat erupted on the mayor's Facebook page hours before the parade even began, with one poster calling it a "shame" that the parade traded green for a rainbow. Several supporters chimed in to support the move.
Parade organizers also stood steadfast in support of their inclusive efforts.
"It is an honor to welcome Mayor Bill De Blasio and the members of the New York City Council," parade board member Frank McGreal said.
McGreal also greeted the Lavender & Green Alliance and its founder Brendan Fay with the Irish saying, "Cead Mile Failte - one hundred thousand welcomes."
Leading Thursday's festivities as grand marshal will be the former Democratic senator from Maine, George Mitchell. He served as senate majority leader in the '90s.
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