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New York St Patrick's Day Parade to include LGBT groups for the first time

Last year, the city's mayor refused to march in the parade over the exclusion of LGBT groups

For the first time in its 200-year history, the world's biggest St Patrick's Day parade in New York will this year include a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) group.

For decades, the parade’s organisers had said that people who identified as LGBT were allowed to march, but only with other groups and with non-descript banners - despite the fact most participants carry identifying signs.

Last year, the controversy surrounding the exclusion of LGBT groups reached boiling point when Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio refused to march in the parade, in solidarity with campaigners, and Guinness beer cut its sponsorship.

Committee organisers lifted the ban by unanimously voting in favour of allowing the LGBT group of broadcaster Universal, OUTNBCUniversal, to march up Manhattan's Fifth Avenue on 17 March under an identifying banner.

More LGBT groups will be able to apply to march in future years, said Bill O'Reilly, a spokesman for the organisers.

The committee said in a statement that 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”.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is to be the parade's grand marshal next year, was "very supportive" of the change. He 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.”

Craig Robinson, executive vice president and chief diversity officer at NBCUniversal, confirmed that the group had applied to march, but said there was no immediate word on why the group was chosen.

“We welcome the parade committee's decision to accept OUTNBCUniversal's application to march and enthusiastically embrace the gesture of inclusion,” Mr Robinson said.

“Our employees, families and friends look forward to joining in this time-honoured celebration of Irish culture and heritage," he added.

Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of the gay-rights group GLAAD, said "It's about time."

"Discrimination has no place on America's streets, least of all on Fifth Avenue.

"As an Irish-Catholic American, I look forward to a fully inclusive St Patrick's Day Parade that I can share with my wife and children, just as my own parents shared with me," she said.

A NYC police officer protester at the annual St. Patricks's Day Parade 16 March in New York in 1996 (Getty)

In the annual parade which began in 1762, participants include uniformed city workers, marching bands with bagpipes, traditional Irish dancers and politicians - drawing thousands of spectators.

The ban on LGBT groups has also been highlighted in other US cities. In Boston, the brewer of Sam Adams beer last year pulled its sponsorship because organisers exclude gay groups Irish-American mayor Martin Walsh refused to march.