BOSTON (AP) – The organizers of Boston’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade voted to allow a group representing gay veterans to march next year, a dramatic turnaround for an organization that has long resisted the inclusion of gays.
The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, which won a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1995 upholding their right to ban gay groups from the annual parade that draws hundreds of thousands of spectators, voted 5-4 on Dec. 15 to allow the group OutVets to march in the parade scheduled for March 15. They will be allowed to carry a blue banner with five white stars representing the branches of the military, and six vertical rainbow stripes.
OutVets represents lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender veterans.
Bryan Bishop, OutVets founder and U.S. Air Force veteran, called the decision “awesome.”
“I think it’s very significant,” said Bishop, who works as chief of staff in Boston’s Veterans Services department. “Ensuring that there is 100 percent inclusivity is important.”
The group has about 50 to 60 members, but has no political or social agenda, he said.
OutVets is being allowed to march because of their military service, not sexual orientation, said veterans’ council Commander Brian Mahoney.
“This conforms to the tenets of the parade,” Mahoney said. “The parade is devoted to honoring the service of veterans. It’s is our aim to honor that service and the history of the Irish Catholics in Boston. Anything that detracts from that is verboten.”
The parade organizers have long resisted the inclusion of gay groups, saying the parade is meant to honor veterans and Irish-American heritage, not promote any political or social agenda.
The parade was in negotiations last year to allow the LGBT group MassEquality to march, but things fell apart at the last moment and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh boycotted the parade. Other top Massachusetts politicians have for decades refused to participate in the parade because the exclusion of gay groups.