By Keila Torres Osacio for the Stamford Advocate
STAMFORD — When the Stamford St. Patrick’s Day Committee chose state Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald as its 2016 grand marshal last month, they had a host of reasons.
From his time serving on municipal boards to his current position, McDonald has served Stamford in multiple capacities and has been involved with the annual Irish parade for years. “He meets all the criteria,” said Michael Feighan, chair of the committe.
But the one reason that didn’t necessarily guide their decision is the exact reason their actions are being embraced as a historic, groundbreaking move.
McDonald is believed to be either the first, or one of the first, openly gay grand marshals in the nation chosen to lead a St. Patrick’s Day parade.
“It’s definitely profound whether or not they intended it to be,” said Anthony Crisci, executive director of the Triangle Community Center in Norwalk. “It’ll be seen as a welcoming of the community. I think people are probably very happy about it.”
LGBT advocates in New York were thrilled by the news. After decades of conflict, that city only this year allowed openly gay people to march in the parade for the first time.
“This is a marvelous breakthrough for Stamford and the nation,” saidBrendan Fay, founder of the Irish LGBT group Lavender & Green Alliance.
For years, Fay has been an organizer of a Queens parade created in response to the ban placed on the New York City parade, called the St. Pat's for All parade.
“I think it’s a groundbreaking, significant step by a major city in the U.S.,” Fay added. “I hope people appreciate the significance of this move. It says something about where the hearts of this community are.”
John F. Mulligan, of the Irish Queers, an advocacy group in New York, said he didn’t know of any other parades either, besides the St. Pat’s for All parade, that honored a gay individual with the title of grand marshal.
“That’s really good news,” he said. “Congratulations from the Irish Queers in New York.”
Mulligan and Fay are among the many members of the LGBT community who for decades have fought against discrimination in the New York City parade.
In New York, LGBT groups were banned from marching in the parade with flags or other identifying markers until this past March. And then it was only a group of gay employees at NBCUniversal, which broadcast the event, that were allowed to march.
The decision to allow them to participate angered many Catholics, especially since the grand marshal this year was Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan, head of the archdiocese of New York.
Brian D. Wallace, spokesman for the Diocese of Bridgeport, said Bishop Frank Caggiano was not consulted on the St. Patrick‘s Day Committee’s decision to choose McDonald, who has clashed with the Church on several issues, but would not protest the move.
“The diocese respects the decision of the committee,“ Wallace said. “It’s a day of inclusiveness. It’s a day people drop their differences. We hope people have a good day and enjoy the parade.”
In Boston also, two groups were allowed to march this year for the first time, ending a decades-long ban there.
The bans are in sharp contrast to the actions being taken in Ireland. Just this May, Ireland became the first country to amend its constitution to allow same-sex marriage with 62 percent of voters casting ballots in favor of the change.
McDonald, who lives in Stamford with his husband Charles Gray, acknowledged that his new role would likely be a topic of conversation. He said the committee’s decision speaks to the inclusive nature of the Stamford community.
“I would imagine my personal life played little if any role in their selection,” he said. “Having said that I think it definitely demonstrated how open the Irish community is. I’ve known the members of the St. Patrick’s Day Committee for decades and all of them have embraced the diversity of the Irish American community in Stamford for the entirety of that period of time.”
In addition to being inclusive, the St. Patrick’s Day Committee is also proactive. The parade is March 6, 2016.