St Patrick’s Day is practically synonymous with South Boston – one of the city’s historically Irish communities – and there is a lot of Celtic pride in that waterfront section of the Bay State. Since the early 1990s, gay groups have petitioned to participate in the annual March parade. That’s a long time to wait, but it seems that, with the change of mayoral administration, the time has now come for their inclusion.
In January a new Boston mayor, Marty Walsh, who is Irish, was sworn in. His predecessor, Thomas Menino, who is Italian and held the position for 21 years, was known for his community spirit and inclusive policies. He boycotted the South Boston St Patrick’s Day parade for almost two decades, but was unable to persuade the organizers to include the gay groups.
MassEquality is Massachusetts’ forward organization for marriage equality, and was central in getting the same-sex marriage decision passed in Massachusetts legislature in 2004. Since 2010 they have attempted to march in the St Patty’s Day parade. They were also denied a spot this year. However, that changed when Mayor Walsh threatened to boycott the parade because of the decision. The organizers alluded to the importance of his being there because he is the son of Irish immigrants.
The next issue is over how MassEquality marchers may visually identify themselves. The gay rights group’s executive director, Kara Coredini, said that it would only be meaningful if they could march as visibly open and be welcomed in that light.
The history of LGBT inclusion in the South Boston St Patrick’s Day parade started long ago – over 20 years. In 1992 and 1993 the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston did march in the parade, after a Massachusetts court-ordered injunction to allow gay groups come and march. They were escorted by riot police (see above photo). One year later the organizers, led at the time by John Hurley and the Allied War Veterans Council, choose to cancel the entire St Patrick’s Day parade rather than include gays. In 1995 the matter was taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, which, citing the First Amendment (freedom of speech), ruled in favor of the parade organizers, saying, as it was a private parade, that they could discriminate against groups if they so chose.
The St Patrick’s Day parade has a 112-year tradition, so the decision for this year’s inclusion is not taken lightly. Moreover, South Boston for over 100 years has been a largely white neighborhood of the city. In 1974 they resisted court orders for busing to desegregate Southie’s public schools. In the past ten years, the neighborhood has become much more integrated with new immigrants moving in and owning businesses.
South Boston St Patrick’s Day parade current lead organizer, Tim Doross, hesitated when asked if the gay groups could sport a rainbow flag in their contingency. Well, if it includes a pot of gold and a leprechaun, everyone should be happy, he finally replied. The inclusion has been a long time coming. In the words of Coredini, “that’s huge.”
By Fern Remedi-Brown