Metro, Boston

MassEquality Strives For More Inclusive St. Patrick’s Day Parade

MassEquality, the leading gay rights organization in the state of Massachusetts, today released the contents of a letter sent to the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council-the organizers of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in South Boston-regarding the contention between the two groups that has marked the weeks leading up to the parade scheduled for this Sunday.

At the urging of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’09, the parade organizers extended an invitation earlier this month for MassEquality to send marchers to the parade, so long as the marchers did not wear shirts or hold signs that used the word “gay” or referenced sexual orientation. MassEquality rejected this condition, and the Council rescinded the invitation last week, accusing MassEquality in a press release of having misled parade organizers.

In the press release, the Council said that it received an application for 20 GLBTQ veterans to march in the parade, but that MassEquality was able to produce only one GLBTQ veteran to march.

The Council called MassEquality’s application “a ploy” that it was using to march in the parade “under false pretenses.” The Council thanked Walsh for his efforts in trying to “mediate this issue,” and went on to reemphasize the Council’s commitment to honoring veterans and celebrating Irish traditions at the parade.

“We will fight to keep our parade and its traditions,” the press release read.

Today, MassEquality publicized the contents of a letter sent to the Council that denied the alleged duplicitous nature of its application to march in the parade. The letter was signed by 12 veterans who identified themselves as members of the GLBTQ community who would have marched in the parade had they been afforded the opportunity to do so openly.

The letter insisted that the Council was wrong to deny their application to march in the parade openly as GLBTQ veterans, and objected to the Council’s accusation that MassEquality was unable to provide a sufficient number of veterans to march in the parade: “We are quite disappointed that the Allied War Veterans Council will not let us fly our colors as we march,” the letter read. “More importantly, however, we respectfully request that they cease to allege that we do not exist, that we are ‘supposed’ veterans and that we never intended to march.”

The letter cited the 2010 repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy as one reason that they refused to hide their identities in order to march in the parade. “We sought only to march with integrity behind the colors that represent our multi-faceted identities as veterans, LGBT people and, for some of us, as Irish-Americans,” the letter read. “But we fought too long and too hard to be able to serve our country openly to retreat back into the closet in order to march in a parade.”

The Council’s invitation to MassEquality would have broken a precedent that has stood firmly since a Supreme Court decision in the 1990s, which asserted that the First Amendment protected the Council’s right to control who could march in its privately organized parade, thus upholding the Council’s decision to exclude the GLBTQ community from the parade.

Executive Director of MassEquality Kara Coredini, BC Law ’01, holds that the resistance of the parade organizers to the inclusion of the GLBTQ community has been more aggressive this year than in any year since that Supreme Court decision.

“Just because the Supreme Court ruled that the parade organizers have the legal right to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender applicants does not make it the morally right thing to do,” Coredini said in an email.

Coredini said that MassEquality’s last direct conversation with the Council was on March 2, when MassEquality felt that negotiations were positive. According to her, MassEquality learned that GLBTQ veterans would be invited to the parade with conditions through an article in The Boston Globe, and not directly from the Council. MassEquality rejected the conditions because they felt that the GLBTQ community should not have “to silence who they are” to march in a parade.

When the parade organizers ultimately rescinded their invitation to MassEquality, Coredini said that they “were surprised by the abrupt and hostile tone of the Parade organizers’ rejection,” and that the Council’s reasons for rescinding the invitation were unfounded. “No other applicant to this parade has the burden of presenting every marcher before their application is accepted,” she said. “That is pretext for what was really going on-the parade organizers don’t want MassEquality to march because we insist on marching openly.”

In a March 6 press release, however, the Council maintained that MassEquality had been misleading in its application to march in the parade and thanked members of the public who wrote letters lending their support to the Council. In the press release, the Council asserted that they had always strived to consider “a changing community and political correctness” but stated that MassEquality had tried to mislead them in order to march in the parade touting a message contrary to the Council’s values.

“We will not allow anyone to express harmful or inappropriate messages,” the press release read. “This was a decision we made for the good of this parade.”

Alex Taratuta, the chair of the GLBTQ Leadership Council at Boston College and A&S ’14, said that the exclusion of the GLBTQ community from the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston can have a strong impact on college students and other young people struggling with their identities. In Taratuta’s view, the absence of the GLBTQ community from the parade could lead young people to believe that their sexualities are somehow inconsistent with an Irish heritage.

“I think it’s unfortunate, especially in a city like Boston which has had marriage equality since 2004,” Taratuta said. “Any time an organization or group specifically excludes the gay community, it directly says to a younger generation that this type of lifestyle is not okay.”

March 12, 2014