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For the first time in its history, New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade decided to drop its gay pride ban and allow LGBT activists to participate in the parade.

The country’s largest celebration of Irish heritage had the streets of midtown Manhattan awash in green on Thursday as thousands marched up Fifth Avenue for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

As always, it was a celebration of Irish heritage, but this year’s parade also stands to close a long chapter of controversy.

Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of GLAAD said: “Growing up as an Irish Catholic from Staten Island, some of my fondest and most vivid memories are walking hand in hand with my mother in this nation’s oldest and greatest St. Patrick’s Day Parade. That’s an experience that, until now, I couldn’t share with my own children because I’m gay.

“That’s because up until now, LGBT Irish groups were forbidden from walking in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. But thanks to the tireless work of groups like the Lavender and Green Alliance, Irish Queers, and more – as well as the work of GLAAD – this year we cement true and lasting change.

“Today, New York City’s famed St. Patrick’s Day Parade will finally welcome an Irish LGBT group for the very first time.”

New York City’s mayor has marched with a group of LGBT revellers. Wearing green and lavender sashes, the group, led by the Democratic mayor and several openly gay legislators, marched down Fifth Avenue on Thursday afternoon.

Among the group was Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in the 2013 Supreme Court case that successfully overturned parts of the Defence of Marriage Act.

But not everyone was pleased with the ban’s lift.

“It’s contemptible,” Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, who stopped marching last year when the parade lifted a few bans, told Fox News.

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