DEMONSTRATION

LGBT Veterans Fight Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade Ban

Politicians and businesses are withdrawing their support for the parade after the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council’s decision to ban LGBT group Outvets from marching.

The organizers of Boston’s premiere St. Patrick’s Day event should know better than to try to keep LGBT people out of a parade.

On Tuesday night, the Boston-based LGBT veterans organization OutVets announced on its Facebook page that the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council had voted 9-4 to deny them entry into the 2017 South Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade.

“The Council did not give a clear reason, but, given the tenor of the Council's deliberations, one can assume it's because we are LGBTQ,” OutVets wrote. “This is a sad day for the LGBTQ community and for veterans of all backgrounds.”

The ban comes just two years after the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council ultimately decided to allow OutVets to march in the 2015 parade after two decades of quarrelling over the inclusion of LGBT groups.

As CNN reported, the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council won a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court case over its right to ban the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston from the annual parade, causing the city to pull funding for the event and leading Mayor Thomas Menino to boycott the parade until his death in 2014.

And now that the Council has changed course so suddenly, they are once again facing the wrath of Boston. Corporate sponsor Anheuser-Busch announced they were “re-evaluating [their] participation in this event.”

Grocery chain Stop & Shop went a stage further and cancelled their sponsorship, saying in a statement, “The men and women from OutVets, who have bravely served our country, deserve our respect and to be included.” (The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council did not return The Daily Beast’s multiple requests for comment.)

The Teamsters Local 25 Union also announced they’re not marching and the parade’s army veteran Grand Marshal resigned, writing in a powerful statement, “The freedoms that we possess to hold such an event [are] due to the men and women who have spilled their blood in defense to this great nation, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or who they share relations with.”

Massachusetts politicians, too, are joining in protest over the parade organizers’ decision, as the Boston Globe reported. Governor Charlie Baker, Senator Edward Markey, two congressmen, and several others announced they would boycott, pending a reversal of the OutVets ban.

Marty Walsh, who two years ago became the first Boston mayor in decades to march in the parade due to the 2015 decision to allow OutVets, said in a statement that he’s sitting this one out unless the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council changes course.

“I will not tolerate discrimination in our city of any form,” he said. “We are one Boston, which means we are a fully inclusive city. I will not be marching in the parade unless this is resolved. Anyone who values what our city stands for should do the same.”

In the meantime, OutVets is still struggling to understand why they were suddenly uninvited from the parade after two years of marching. Founder and executive director Bryan Bishop, who was not immediately available for comment Thursday morning, told WFXT yesterday, “I asked what is the reason and I was not given one.”

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Bishop told WFXT that he was told to submit an application on February 16 and then saw a February 15 deadline show up on the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council website. He has also heard reports that the Council believes the pride rainbow in the OutVets banner logo “equates to sexuality” and therefore cannot be displayed in the parade.

The rainbow flag has long been a symbol of pride in LGBT identities. Ironically, designer Gilbert Baker’s original 1978 version of the flag had a hot pink stripe on the top intended to symbolize sexuality but it had to be removed before entering mass production because the fabric was too expensive, as a 2015 Washington Post history noted.

Not only is the rainbow flag itself not an overt display of sexuality, then, the only element originally associated with sex was literally erased from the symbol decades ago.

Boston isn’t the only city where St. Patrick’s Day parade organizers have taken issue with symbols of LGBT pride.

In fact, it wasn’t until 2016 that the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade allowed more than one LGBT group to march in the parade after facing boycotts from Mayor Bill de Blasio and Guinness.

It was also, as the Associated Press reported, the first year that these marchers were allowed to tout LGBT-themed buttons and signs in the procession—buttons and signs that they had originally been told would distract from the parade’s overarching Irish theme.

Meanwhile, across the pond, the Dublin St. Patrick’s Day parade allowed its first gay float all the way back in 1993.

The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council might decide to rejoin the inclusive ranks of the Dublin and New York City parades after all.

Citing Ed Flynn, a member of the council who voted to allow OutVets to participate, the Associated Press reported early Thursday morning that the Council will hold an emergency meeting to revisit its decision.

Flynn told the Boston Globe that the meeting will take place Friday and that if the vote doesn’t produce a different result, “[he] will not be marching.” And until they’re allowed back in the parade, OutVets sees this as just one more battle in a continuing bid for respect.

“We served our country with honor and distinction,” the group wrote in its statement. “But even after bringing honor to this parade, this community, and to all those who have served, we fight every day to be treated with the basic dignity that comes with service to country.”