Green may be the color most commonly associated with St. Patrick's Day, but this year, Boston is proud to introduce a new shade into the annual parade — or rather, shades. For the first time in history, gay pride groups will march in Boston's St. Patrick's Day Parade as the organizers finally did away with an antiquated ban that forbid homosexual groups from participating in the festivities. Boston Pride, a group that advocates for LGBT rights, and OutVets, which provides a space for gay veterans, will take their places alongside a number of other participants at Sunday's parade, representing tremendous progress in Massachusetts, which was, incidentally, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.
The lifting of the ban led to Mayor Marty Walsh's decision to become the first Boston mayor in 20 years to march in the parade. Two decades ago, Boston leadership decided to boycott the annual party as a result of a Supreme Court decision that allowed the Allied War Veterans Council to ban participants who identified as homosexual. But now the progressive city is finding further methods of inclusion for groups regardless of sexual orientation, and LGBT activists and allies are elated. "I’m thrilled that the St. Patrick’s Day parade is inclusive this year, and the addition of Boston Pride to the list of participants reflects the values of the South Boston neighborhood. With this year's parade, Boston is putting years of controversy behind us," Mayor Walsh noted in a statement.
The group OutVets was notified of its acceptance into the parade in December, when the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council voted 5–4 to let the advocacy group to participate in the march. And on Friday, Boston Pride received the good news, making Sunday's march a historic one for the LGBT community. Bryan Bishop, a 20-year U.S. Air Force veteran who founded OutVets, told the Associated Press, "We're excited to be there. We've received nothing but positive feedback, from the mayor all the way down."
And in a phone interview with Reuters, Malcolm Carey, clerk of Boston Pride's board of directors, said, "This is a huge step forward in our mission to have inclusivity in our city and in the Boston-area community." Joining Boston Pride, OutVets, and Mayor Walsh will also be Republican Governor of Massachusetts Charles Baker, alongside Democratic congressman Seth Moulton, an ex-Marine and Iraq War veteran. Moulton, who will march with OutVets, called the struggle for gay rights and marriage equality "the civil rights fight of our generation."
While Boston LGBT activists celebrate this small yet symbolic victory, others across the country are not so lucky. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio will once again boycott the annual celebration, as organizers have allowed only one gay rights group to participate in the parade. The Irish Catholic roots of the holiday run deep and have contributed to much of the controversy surrounding homosexual participation, but now, as even the Pope seems to be relaxing his stance on the issue, it seems that change is on the horizon.
Of course, not everyone was on board with the changes to the parade's line-up in Boston. A number of groups are now deciding to sit out this year's festivities in protest of the progress, most of them affiliated with the Roman Catholic faith. After the extremely conservative Catholic Action League of Massachusetts accused the Knights of Columbus — a group of Catholic men — of "an unconscionable betrayal of Catholic moral principles" in its decision to march in the same parade as two gay rights groups, the Knights decided to withdraw from the parade. In explaining its decision to abstain from the celebration, the Knights called the event "politicized and divisive," and said on its website, "We deeply regret that some have decided to use this occasion to further the narrow objectives of certain special interests, which has subjected this occasion to undeserved division and controversy."
Also sitting out of this year's parade is the Immaculate Heart of Mary School, which will break its 25-year-old tradition of participation with a float and a 40-member-band thanks to the decision to allow Boston Pride and OutVets march this year. "We don't want to be seen as condoning homosexual activity and gay marriage," explained Brother Thomas Dalton, the school's principal. Because that would be the worst thing ever.
Despite the bigotry and continued small-mindedness of some groups, those affiliated with Boston Pride and OutVets are thrilled to have the opportunity to celebrate their heritage without hiding their sexuality. Sylvain Bruni, the president of Boston Pride, said:
We are wicked proud of ... finally breaking that wall. It’s a huge change, especially 20 years later, to have that understanding and make sure people feel welcome in the parade. And we look forward to having this participation for years to come.
"For the first time," Bruni continued, "I will be able to march in the parade and celebrate my heritage openly, without any fear." And that's something worth dyeing the water green over.
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