By Maggie Dolan, news staff
Organizers for the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade faced controversy the past week after initially denying an LGBTQA+ organization from marching in the parade. Following outrage from residents and heavy pressure from local politicians, the group, OUTVETS, will now march in Sunday’s parade.
The parade, organized by the Allied War Veterans Council of South Boston, is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Historically, the event celebrates Irish heritage and Evacuation Day, an American military success over Britain in Boston during the Revolutionary War.
OUTVETS, a nonprofit organization that recognizes LGBTQA+ veterans, was first allowed to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2015, and it was the first LGBTQA+ organization to do so, according to a 2015 OUTVETS press release. They marched again in 2016, but on March 7, the Allied War Veterans Council voted against allowing the group to participate.
Organizers said they denied OUTVETS because its application was late and because the rainbow in its logo violated the parade’s Code of Conduct, which prohibits demonstrating sexual orientation as a theme, according to The New York Times.
“We do not ban any persons or Groups based on their sexual orientation,” the parade Code of Conduct reads. “However, we, the Committee, will not allow the advertisement or display of one’s sexual orientation as a topic that should in any way be depicted as a theme of our parade.”
Following the decision, Governor Charlie Baker, Mayor Martin J. Walsh and City Councilor Tito Jackson, among other politicians, announced they would not march in the parade until OUTVETS was allowed.
“I will not tolerate discrimination in our city of any form,” Walsh said in an official statement. “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.”
Jackson expressed his support for OUTVETS in a statement released on Friday.
“Boston is a welcoming community, one that celebrates diversity in all its forms,” he said in the statement. “I am proud to be a part of this great city that has led the nation in our shared struggles to battle against LGBTQ, gender and racial discrimination.”
After several days of backlash, the Allied War Veterans Council voted unanimously on March 10 to reverse their decision and allow OUTVETS to walk in the parade.
“We are honored and humbled by all the outpouring of support that has been displayed for our LGBTQ Veterans – who are one of the most unrepresented demographics in our Veterans community,” OUTVETS wrote in a Facebook statement on Friday. “We look forward to marching proudly on March 19 and honoring the service and sacrifice of those brave men and women who have given so much for our country.”
Despite the controversy that has overtaken parade discussion throughout the region, the event will carry on as planned, and the Boston Police Department (BPD) is prepared to ensure safety during the parade.
“The BPD will be fully prepared to protect and serve all those in attendance on Sunday, and look forward to a family-friendly event,” said Officer Rachel McGuire, a BPD spokesperson. “This is a great day for the community and should be celebrated in a safe and responsible manner.”
BPD suggests using public transportation the weekend of the parade, as parking in South Boston will be limited. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) will be operating on a normal schedule during the parade, but the MBTA said to expect extreme crowding to affect the Red Line’s ability to get to the Broadway station, which is near the parade route.
“Please develop in advance an alternative parade-viewing site other than the area near Broadway,” MBTA wrote on its website. “Broadway may not be suitable to drop off customers at certain times throughout the day in order to ensure public safety.”
With OUTVETS’ reclaimed position in the parade, the parade is set to continue its tradition of celebration.
“Today we look to a new beginning for one of our most time honored traditions; the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” said OUTVETS Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Bryan Bishop, at a membership meeting on Sunday according to an OUTVETS Facebook post.
Photo courtesy of Tim Pierce, Creative Commons