A gay group will march in the Boston St Patrick’s Day parade for the first time next year, earning praise from the city’s mayor and ire from within the ranks of organizers.
The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, which has organized the parade for more than 20 years, voted Monday night 5-4 to allow openly gay veterans in the group OutVets to march in the parade. The decision follows years of controversy over the issue, from a 1995 supreme court decision to a bitter dispute in 2014 that caused mayor Marty Walsh to boycott the parade .
Walsh has not yet said whether he will take part in the 15 March parade, but on Tuesday spokesperson Kate Norton said he was “thrilled to hear that the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council have decided to make the 2015 parade an inclusive event”.
The ban’s end after years of dispute is apparently due to OutVets’ veteran membership. Council commander Brian Mahoney told the Associated Press that he met OutVets’ pitch simply: “It was a group of vets who wanted to march and we said ‘Yeah’.”
Mahoney said that sexual orientation made no difference in the vote and that he and the council accepted the application based on military service. OutVets members will carry a blue banner with six vertical rainbow stripes and five white stars that represent the branches of the military.
Bryan Bishop, founder of the LGBT veterans group, told the Associated Press his group would march “as veterans who happen to be gay”. “We honor the sacrifices of LGBT veterans and their families,” he said, as well as “the sacrifices of all veterans”.
Parade organizers have historically resisted applications from LGBT groups, often vociferously. James “Wacko” Hurley, a council member, took the issue to the supreme court in 1995; he has maintained ever since that organizers have the right to exclude anyone they deem contrary to the parade’s purposes. Earlier this year council member Philip Wuschke Jrtold the Guardian : “Our theme is St Patrick’s Day and Evacuation Day. It isn’t a sexually oriented parade. They have parades for that.”
MassEquality, a Boston-based LGBT rights group, has applied for years to participate in the parade to no avail, and been accused by Hurley of “having an agenda”. A spokesperson for the group told the Guardian that the group supports the inclusion of OutVets as a sign of progress.
“We’re glad the Allied War Veterans voted in favor of allowing OutVets to march – we think it’s a great step forward,” the spokesperson said, adding that MassEquality plans to apply to march in the 2015 parade.
Last year mayor Walsh attempted to broker a compromise between MassEquality and the Council, but talks failed in the days before the parade and Walsh boycotted the parade to protest. The Boston Beer Company, the maker of Sam Adams and a long-time sponsor of the parade, withdrew its support last year over the exclusion of LGBT groups.
An alternate St Patrick’s Day Peace Parade that includes LGBT groups has for years marched shortly after the traditional event.
The organizers of New York’s St Patrick’s Day parade also denied gay groups the ability to participate until recently, a persistence that also cost them sponsorships as well as mayor Bill de Blasio’s support. In September they ended the ban by allowing one group , an affiliate of parade broadcaster NBC, in a decision that drew both cheers and skepticism from the city’s gay rights activists.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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