LGBTQs Still Barred From Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade

by David Perry

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday March 11, 2014

Organizers of the South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade face a growing political backlash for their refusal to let a group of 20 gay veterans participate as openly LGBTQ in the nation's second largest Irish-themed march. Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Congressman Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA) both announced their intentions to skip the parade in protest of the decision barring the former armed service members.

On March 5, Philip Wuschke, Commander of the Allied War Veterans Council, which has coordinated the parade since its inception in 1901, broke off what had become acrimonious negotiations with LGBT Veterans of Equality, an adjunct of MassEquality, a Massachusetts-based LGBTQ advocacy group. MassEquality petitioned Wuschke on behalf of a group of gay veterans wishing to join the festivities as an openly gay group.

Wuschke charges MassEquality acted in bad faith. He said not only that there was no evidence that LGBT Veterans of Equality was a recognized veterans group, but also that of the 20 veterans represented on their application, only one came forward. MassEquality countered, stating there was no dishonesty involved and that they had several veterans ready to march.

"We met with Congressman Stephen Lynch, Mayor Walsh, and Parade organizer Phil Wuschke and discussed our concerns," said MassEquality Executive Director Kara Coredini in a statement. "MassEquality was joined by members of the LGBT community, one of whom marched with GLIB [the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston] twenty years ago. We made it clear to the Parade organizers that we would only march if LGBT people are able to march openly and honestly.

"No agreement was reached, but the conversation is ongoing. We hope that the Parade organizers will see exclusion as not only unfair, but harmful and not aligned with the many fair-minded and inclusive Bostonians - Irish or not - who participate in and enjoy this annual celebration of a community that is so vital to the city of Boston."

Past vs. Present

Initially refused a place in the parade because their banner contained "gay," "lesbian," and "bisexual," GLIB won court orders in 1992 and 1993 to march. Rather than have the group appear in the 1994 parade, the Allied War Veterans Council canceled the event entirely and took their case, Hurley vs. GLIB, to the Supreme Court in 1995. Although lower courts sided with GLIB, the SCOTUS favored the Council, declaring that because the parade was privately organized, it qualified as a private event protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The ruling did not apply to just the Council, but to all private organizers of such events, which were thus free to include or exclude with impunity, despite the fact marches take place on public streets. Since then, the Allied War Veterans Council has acted to keep any political message, liberal or conservative, out of the Boston parade. Right-to-life groups are as barred as LGBTQ entities.

Critics counter that sexual orientation of any sort is not directly political, and that LGBTQs have long marched in the parade, albeit as members of other groups and not openly gay. Organizers do not contend the latter and in fact favor it; provided gays and lesbians continue the status quo of "marching in the closet," the Council and other similar organizations allow gays and lesbians into the parades. The Council had "conditionally approved" gay veterans marching provided they wore nothing identifying themselves as LGBTQ. MassEquality refused to meet this stipulation.

"To our surprise, the offer [to march] was rejected by MassEquality's representative Kara Coredini," the Allied War Veterans Council said in a press release. "Her rejection was based on the fact that we would not allow LGBT veterans to identify themselves as openly Gay by means of signage and T Shirts Identifying Them as LGBT veteran. This clearly violates our code of conduct." [sic]

"We gave them what we figured was reasonable," Wuschke told the Boston Globe. "They wanted it all."

Actions vs. Consequences

In response, several parallel parades where LGBTQ people may march along with their straight counterparts have sprung up across the United States, and local politicians, such as former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, made a point to attend both events. That elected officials are now rejecting outright to march in parades with LGBTQ bans marks a turning point in the issue. Ironically, gays and lesbians have marched openly in Ireland since the 1990s.

"If you can do that in Dublin, in God's name, why can't you do it on Fifth Avenue?" former New York mayoral candidate Christine Quinn said to the Associated Press in 2013. Critics of the policy are further stung by the worldwide and all-embracing phenomenon St. Patrick's Day now is. Countries neither Irish (Russia, Argentina, Switzerland) nor Christian (Israel, Japan, South Korea) now all throw their own versions of the holiday, leprechauns and all.

It is clear that organizers in America are painting themselves into a corner, and several localities now allow LGBTQ groups in their parades. In 2011, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which organizes the St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York City (the nation's largest), suffered an embarrassing blow when Irish President Mary McAleese declined to be Grand Marshall of that city's St. Patrick's Day parade in response the Order's gay ban. That was repeated this year when New York Mayor Bill de Blasio refused to march in that city's St. Patrick's Day Parade, the nation's largest.

"MassEquality looks forward to the day when the South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade is truly an LGBT-inclusive parade," said Coredini. "We are hopeful that March 16, 2014 is that day."

David Perry is a freelance travel and news journalist. In addition to EDGE, his work has appeared on ChinaTopix, Thrillist, and in Next Magazine and Steele Luxury Travel among others. Follow him on Twitter at @GhastEald.