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Diversity groups apply to march in South Boston parade

It was a week of optimism and then confusion for those hoping for an end to the ban on gay groups marching in the South Boston Saint Patrick’s Day parade, after two neighborhood groups that aim to celebrate diversity and include openly gay members announced that they had been given permission to march in this year’s parade.

One of the groups, the St. Vincent’s Lower End Neighborhood Association, said they had been granted permission to have a diversity float that features a giant rainbow arriving at a pot of gold, a symbol with two clear meanings on Saint Patrick’s Day in South Boston.

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But after each group announced its acceptance and credited parade organizers with taking a positive first step, Philip Wuschke, who heads the parade, told the Globe that neither group had been granted permission to march. He said that the applications are still under consideration and that organizers have in no way changed their stance on having gays in the parade.

“Nothing has changed,” Wuschke said. “I don’t know what they’re talking about with this ‘first step.’ There are many gay people who march in the parade. We don’t sit there and ask every group if they have gay people. That would be ridiculous. All we do is look at the group” with the goal of blocking organizations that want to turn the parade into “a demonstration rather than a celebration,” he said.

In 1995, organizers of the parade won a landmark Supreme Court ruling that gave them the right to exclude groups that presented a message they did not like, and since that time they have used that power to bar groups representing lesbians, gays, bisexuals, or transgender people from marching in the parade.

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Many politicans, including Mayor Thomas M. Menino, said they would boycott the parade until the ban is dropped.

On Thursday, Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who has repeatedly come out against the parade policy, told WGBH radio that there are ongoing discussions and that he believes there is room for compromise.

‘Nothing has changed. I don’t know what they’re talking about with this “first step.” ’

PHILIP WUSCHKE, Saint Patrick’s Day parade organizer 
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“We still have 50-plus days left to go before the parade starts, and I would love to march in the Saint Patrick’s Day parade this year,” Walsh said. “We have to make sure it’s inclusive, and I’m going to be working with some folks to hopefully see what we can do.”

The two groups who believed they had been given permission to march in the parade — the St. Vincent’s Lower End Neighborhood Association and the South Boston Association of Non-Profits — say they have no plans to turn the parade into a demonstration.

“If I’m going to carry a big sign and make some big statement, you should throw me out,” said Randy Foster, a gay Iraq war veteran in the St. Vincent’s contingent.

“If you’re going to make a political statement, you should stay home. And you don’t change minds by boycotting. This is about taking a crack in the door and opening it a little wider by engaging.”

But Foster said that once news of the acceptances got out — the South Boston Association of Non-Profits issued a press release Tuesday, which has since been removed from its website — the parade organizers “got rightfully spooked.”

“You don’t declare victory because you got some head nod saying you can be in the parade,” Foster said. “Change comes incrementally.”

Foster said his group — which came together in an attempt to build a park on city-owned land in the neighborhood and which includes several gay men — has been having positive discussions with parade organizers for months.

“I do not believe in my heart that these people are antigay,” Foster said. “They just don’t want people waving a gay flag.”

It remained unclear what led the South Boston Association of Non-Profits to believe they had been accepted; Michael Dowling, the group’s president, has refused to comment since Wuschke told the Globe that their application is still under consideration.

Wuschke said the Allied War Veterans Council, which oversees the parade, has rejected an application to march from MassEquality, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy group. MassEquality, which has been turned down several years running, issued a press release about the snub that included an audio recording of a voicemail from Wuschke informing them they had been rejected.

“The problem that parade organizers have, the distinction they’re trying to draw, is they wouldn’t want somebody walking down the street with a sign or a T-shirt that says ‘Legalize gay,’ ” said Kara Coredini, executive director of MassEquality. “It’s not being dramatic and over the top. It’s just someone wearing a T-shirt that shows pride. I would argue that this is a ban.”

Billy Baker can be reached at billybaker@globe.com.
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