After weeks of discussions that failed to convince organizers of South Boston’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade to let gays march openly in the parade, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said today he would not take part in the event.
Walsh said he was “disappointed” and felt a “little bit of frustration.”
“I think for the most part everyone was on the same page. We had an agreement. Everything was all set. It came down to what letters were on a banner, which was very unfortunate,” said Walsh, referring to a proposed banner bearing the letters “LGBTQ” on it.
For two decades, gay men and lesbians have been excluded from openly marching. Walsh worked until the last minute to bring the statewide gay rights organization MassEquality and parade organizers from the Allied War Veterans Council to an agreement that would have changed that.
The talks broke down over a matter of language: Parade organizers would not permit any signs or clothing bearing the word “gay” or any other declaration of sexual orientation. MassEquality would not march without those words, comparing the restriction to a return to the “closet” of concealing one’s identity.
Walsh said today that the issue “came down to five letters” on the LGBTQ [standing for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer] banner.
In a statement this morning praising Walsh for his efforts and for choosing not to march, Kara Coredini, executive director of MassEquality, said such a restriction was unfair.
“No other group is asked to march without a banner and their standard – not the police, firefighters, or the Irish,” Coredini said. “A double standard is the status quo and does not represent progress.”
Coredini said activists were encouraged by the progress that was achieved and hoped that the exclusion would end for next year.
“While we are disappointed that we did not get to march this year as we had hoped, we thank the mayor for championing full inclusion all the way until the end,” she said. “We are encouraged by today’s small step forward with the inclusion of a ‘diversity’ float, and we hope that it is a sign that next year applications from LGBT groups, like MassEquality, that wish to join the celebration of Irish heritage and the service and sacrifice of veterans, will be accepted on their own merits and the decades-long ban can finally be lifted.”
The Catholic Action League issued a statement after the parade congratulating the parade organizers “for their determined defense of their Faith, moral principles, and constitutional rights.”
“The homosexual group which tried to force its way into the parade cared nothing for Saint Patrick or Irish culture, and had nothing but contempt for the Catholic religion. MassEquality wanted to use the parade to promote its own agenda,” the League said in a statement.
In a statement issued this morning, Walsh drew parallels between the fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality and earlier battles for liberty.
“The St. Patrick’s Day parade was born out of the celebration of Evacuation Day, a day set aside to recognize and honor our military and those brave Americans who have banded together for the sake of freedom. And so much of our Irish history has been shaped by the fight against oppression,” Walsh said.
Interviewed after the Dorchester event, Walsh praised the diversity float that rolled down the parade route today, with gay marchers who were not marching as part of a gay organization but as South Boston residents.
“That’s a huge step,” Walsh said.
Like Coredini, he sounded an optimistic note about the controversy, saying, “This time next year we won’t be having this discussion.”
Asked about his plans for the day, Walsh, who lives in the city’s Dorchester neighborhood, said he would have a quieter day now that he had decided not to participate in the parade.
“I’m going to find some corned beef and cabbage in a little while with some family and eat it. I’ll have to do a different walk now to get my five miles in. So maybe I’ll walk around the neighborhood a little bit and get my own single-man march on,” he said.