For the first time, New York City’s St Patrick’s Day Parade will feature lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) groups marching under their own rainbow banner.

In previous years, the Catholic group Ancient Order of Hibernians had sponsored the parade, and specifically excluded any LGBT groups from joining in; but this time, the leadership of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York has welcomed the inclusion of LGBT groups into the parade – despite only one group, Out@NBC, being officially registered to take part.

This year’s grand marshal, Cardinal Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan, said he thought ‘the decision is a wise one.’ Despite criticism from some Catholic groups, Dolan made clear that ‘people with same-sex attraction are God’s children, deserving dignity and respect, never to be treated with discrimination or injustice.’

As Human Rights Watch has noted, despite increasing numbers of Catholic leaders positively engaging LGBT people, many disregard Church teachings regarding nonviolence toward homosexuals. In recent years, Catholic leaders around the world have failed to speak out against serious violence and persecution faced by LGBT communities. Some have even supported policies and practices that explicitly or implicitly promote such violence.

A spokesperson for Human Rights Watch added: ‘Like Dolan, the Synod should explicitly adopt a more welcoming stance towards LGBT people, and condemn the violence and discrimination that these communities routinely face. That would spread some of the joy of the St Patrick’s Day parade throughout the rest of the year.’