By Katie Reilly
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Leaders of the New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade named two new leaders in a move aimed at including more gay and lesbian groups, which until this year had been barred from taking part.
The parade's board of directors created and filled two leadership posts, asking the new chairman and vice chairman to expand participation in the March event by the LGBT community.
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The move follows years of protest and criticism over the parade's former stance on LGBT inclusion. This year, for the first time, the parade allowed an LGBT organization, Out@NBCUniversal, to carry a banner in the parade.
Also this year, Boston's St. Patrick's Day parade lifted a ban on LGBT groups, which it had defended by arguing that homosexuality conflicted with Roman Catholic doctrine.
John Dunleavy, president of the New York City parade organizing committee, drew criticism in recent years for failing to include LGBT groups. He will keep his position, but take direction from the board.
John Lahey, formerly vice chairman of New York's parade organizing committee, was named chairman of the board of directors. The board has asked him to find a second LGBT group to include in the 2016 event.
"In adding the second group, we want to underscore the inclusiveness of the parade," said Lahey, who led the efforts to include Out@NBCUniversal in 2015.
He said the parade previously didn't allow LGBT groups to march because of worries that including groups with a political message would detract from the parade's primary purpose of celebrating the life of St. Patrick, a 5th century missionary who is Ireland's main patron saint.
The board's actions follow a trend of greater support for LGBT communities after Ireland voted to allow gay marriage in May and the U.S. Supreme Court legalized it across the United States last week.
"While I think we were appropriately applauded for the action we took this year, there were some, at least, who thought we should do even more," Lahey said.
Brendan Fay, founder of the Lavender and Green Alliance, a group that celebrates LGBT Irish culture, said the board's decision left him optimistic that the group may finally be included after applying since 1994 to be a part of the city's parade.
"I feel like the parade is finally catching up with the heart of Irish people," said Fay, who is from Drogheda, Ireland.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)