This year, Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is going to be much more diverse. After heavy debate and even an intervention by Boston’s mayor, the gay advocacy organization MassEquality has finally gained the right to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade.
This inclusion of homosexual groups in the parade has been a 20-year-long battle between parade organizers, politicians and gay rights organizations. This issue stems all the way back to 1994 when state courts mandated that homosexual organizations be allowed to march in the parade. Instead of including the groups in the St. Patrick’s festivities, the parade committee decided to cancel the parade. In 1995 gay organizations lost the battle again and were told they could not march in the parade by the Supreme Court, who made a unanimous decision that the parade could exclude any group they choose, due to the event’s private funding. Due to this ruling, the mayor and other major politicians refused to march in the parade.
For the past four years, Boston’s gay rights and advocacy group, MassEquality, has registered to be a part of the parade; the second largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in America. Each year they have been denied by parade coordinators. However, after much debate, and Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s threats to boycott the parade if MassEquality was denied permission to march, the parade committee changed their decision. This year, for the first time ever, the gay organization MassEquality finally gained the right to march in Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.
While this change is seen by some as a major progressive advancement for the parade, as well as for gay rights, the decision to let MassEquality join the parade comes with limitations. The parade organizers have banned the group from identifying their homosexuality while participating in the parade. MassEquality marchers can carry a banner with the organization’s name, but they are prohibited from wearing clothing or holding signs that publicize or promote homosexuality.
The parade committee supports their decision with claims that they don’t want to take focus from the Irish celebration by allowing MassEquality to flaunt their homosexuality. They have also stated that the gay rights group doesn’t need to publicize their sexual orientation because the advocacy group is already well-known, and that wearing t-shirts and holding signs regarding homosexuality would be unnecessary and superfluous. Further, when MassEquality asked if they could march with a rainbow flag, the committee replied conditionally, saying they can only carry the rainbow if a pot of gold is at the end.
This isn’t the only St. Patrick’s day parade in which homosexual groups have been prohibited from marching. New York City’s Irish celebration also had banned gay rights organizations from participating in their St. Patrick’s Day parade. This year, Mayor Bill de Blasio will be boycotting the parade to show his support for gay rights.
Negotiations and meetings will be held in the coming days as final decisions are made regarding MassEquality’s dress code and sign usage for the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day parade, in which the gay advocacy organization finally gained the right to march.
By Allison Longstreet