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Southie St. Patrick’s Day parade organizers give green light to gay vets group

This year's St. Patrick's Day Parade in Boston.Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro

Organizers for the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade have given the go-ahead for the first openly gay group to march in the festivities next year.

The Allied War Veterans Council of South Boston voted 5-4 this week in favor of allowing OutVets – an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) veterans group – to march in the parade next spring.

Bryan Bishop, founder of OutVets, a U.S. Air Force veteran and a chief of staff for the city’s Veterans’ Services, said the inclusion of his group began with conversations between himself and the council’s commander, Brian Mahoney.

“I think a lot of people are tired of the controversy around the parade as are most people in South Boston,” Bishop said. “Every year it’s the same thing over and over again.”

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He said his group would not be celebrating “anyone’s sexuality.”

“That’s personal. We’re celebrating people’s service. We are a veterans organization and that is a key here,” he said.

Mahoney, the council’s commander, is adamant his group has not changed its principles, saying he thought Bishop and his group had “shared goals” with the council.

“There is no problem,” he told Metro Tuesday. “It’s a bunch of veterans who bled for this country. A veteran is a veteran is a veteran as far as I’m concerned.”

Mahoney added, “We’re trying to run a parade, we’re not trying to make any political or social statements. That’s not what we’re trying to do.”

Historically, the council has barred LGBT groups from marching. In 1995, the council went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in a challenge to a state court decision that effectively forced organizers to allow LGBT groups to march. The highest court in the land, in a unanimous decision, essentially found that the organizers could include and exclude whomever they wanted.

And the council has done just that, denying LGBT groups a spot in the march and saying the parade was intended to celebrate veterans and Boston’s Irish Catholic heritage.

That intransigence has brought controversy. Political pressure continued to mount through the years as more and more people found the organizers’ stance unpalatable. The late Boston Mayor Tom Menino, for instance, refused to march in the parade because it excluded gay groups. Last year, the city’s current mayor, Martin Walsh, who is the son of Irish immigrants, also boycotted the parade.

This year, it appeared like MassEquality – an LGBT advocacy group – was going to be allowed to march, but negotiations between the group and parade organizers were scuttled at the 11th hour.

Carly Burton, MassEquality’s interim co-executive director, applauded the vote.

“This is a great step forward for these veterans and we are pleased that the parade is becoming more inclusive,” she said.

Walsh’s office indicated on Tuesday the mayor welcomed the news.

“Mayor Walsh has been advocating for an inclusive parade for quite some time,” said Kate Norton, a mayoral spokeswoman. “We're thrilled to hear that the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council has decided to make the 2015 parade an inclusive event."

 
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