To gay groups, St. Patrick's parade ends an era of exclusion

NEW YORK (AP) — New York's St. Patrick's Day Parade steps off with hopes of closing a long chapter of controversy over including gays in the largest and oldest U.S. celebration of Irish heritage.

After allowing one gay group for the first time last year, organizers have opened the lineup more widely to include activists who protested the parade's decades-long ban on displays of gay pride.

Thursday's parade also honors the centennial of Ireland's Easter Rising against British rule.

Parade board chairman John Lahey has said organizers aim to invoke what he calls "the lessons of sacrifice and heroism, of love and tolerance, embodied in the Irish spirit."

Until last year, organizers said gay people could participate but couldn't carry signs or buttons celebrating their sexual identities.