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Group claims win in breaking parade ban on gays

An organization of South Boston nonprofits is claiming a victory in the long-running battle to allow gays to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, but organizers say that allowing the group to march does not change their ban on “openly gay demonstrations.”

The South Boston Association of Non-Profits announced Wednesday night that it had received permission to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade from the Allied War Veterans Council, which oversees the event. Bob Monahan, chairman of the nonprofits’ parade committee, said the approval was historic because they had made clear on their application that they are a group that celebrates inclusion for all members of the South Boston community.

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But Philip Wuschke, the organizer of the parade, said the group is misunderstanding the parade’s policy, and the symbolism of their approval to march.

“There are a lot of gay people that march in the parade,” Wuschke said. “That’s a common misconception [that gay people cannot march in the event]. We don’t know who’s gay in the parade, and we don’t ban gay people. We ban gay demonstrations, people that are sending out the wrong messages, messages that we don’t agree with.

“It’s not that type of parade. They have their own parade. Ours is a day of celebration, not demonstration.”

Wuschke said the nonprofit group’s application made no specific mention of gay members, so he is not sure how it can claim some kind of victory.

“It says they’re an association of nonprofits that collectively advocate for all South Boston,” he said. “It says they’re going to have about 20 people, plus three costume characters — Dora, Big Bird, and Elmo — and they’re going to play ‘Sesame Street’ music. That’s the application I have in front of me, and it doesn’t say anything about LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] or anything like that. I’m not sure where they’re getting their information from, but our position has not changed.”

But Monahan claims the application was explicit about the inclusion of LGBT organizations within its umbrella group.

“We put in an application saying we want a unit that reflects who is living in South Boston, who we service, and we service members of the LGBTQ community,” he said. “What’s different, what’s new is that for the first time in 108 years, they have put something down on paper approving a group that says there’s gay people in their unit. The council is signing off on acknowledging that there are gay people in our parade, and they’ve never done that before.”

In 1995, John J. “Wacko” Hurley, the previous organizer of the parade, won a landmark ruling at the Supreme Court that essentially granted private organizations the right to exclude groups if they presented a message that was contrary to the one the private organization was trying to convey.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh has repeatedly come out in favor of dropping the ban on gay groups.

In 2011, protesters organized a second, alternative St. Patrick’s Day parade, the Peace Parade, which marches on the same route after the main parade. That group is open to all, and has occurred each year since without major incident.

On Wednesday night, the South Boston Association of Non-Profits published a press release on its website announcing that it had been approved to march, and stating that it would celebrate “the diverse unit that is South Boston including the old, young, single, families, veterans, LGBTQ, all races and ethnicities, new and natives to Southie.”

Billy Baker can be reached at billybaker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.
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