For the first time, lesbian and gay Bostonians are set to march openly in the city’s traditional St. Patrick’s Day Parade through South Boston — as long as they do not wear shirts or hold signs bearing the word “gay.”
On Sunday, the president of the South Boston Association of Non-Profits said members would march following stipulations set by the Allied War Veterans Council, the parade organizer, with a message celebrating diversity and including openly gay marchers, but avoiding specifically pro-gay sentiments.
In an interview at a veterans council banquet, Michael Dowling, head of the association, said parade organizers had been “open and gracious” in discussions.
“We’re an organization that really strives to make a healthy community for all our residents, so we’re really hopeful that our South Boston banner will be near the front of the parade,” Dowling said.
He said participating in the parade was an important step, even if the terms were not ideal.
“It may be that this year, it’s that we open the dialogue,” he said. “We all agree that it’s a conversation we need to be having.”
Welcoming any group that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights would mark a shift for the storied parade, whose organizers have long touted a unanimous 1995 decision of the US Supreme Court that permitted the exclusion of groups presenting a message contrary to the veterans council’s intent.
In recent years, the Veterans for Peace have organized an alternative St. Patrick’s Day parade a mile behind the veterans’ procession and included many LGBT groups.
The new policy change comes amid a cultural shift toward greater inclusion of LGBT Americans. To date, 17 states and the District of Columbia perform same-sex marriages.
John J. “Wacko” Hurley, the past organizer of the parade and plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, on Sunday softened his longstanding position against LGBT groups marching openly, saying such groups were welcome so long as “they abide by our rules, which is military uniforms or a suit [and carrying] no signs except for one banner.”
“If they don’t, they will be dismissed from the parade. It’s as simple as that,” Hurley said.
Though the Association of Non-Profits was committed to marching, it remained unclear Sunday whether other pro-gay groups would participate.
On Saturday, the executive director of MassEquality, a statewide organization advocating for LGBT rights, issued a statement saying the organization had not received an invitation to march and would only “consider accepting an invitation that allows LGBT people to march openly.”
“LGBT people should not have to silence who they are to celebrate other parts of their identities,” said Kara Coredini, the group’s executive director.
Another South Boston neighborhood group that applied to march with openly LGBT members in its contingent, St. Vincent’s Lower End Neighborhood Association, could not be reached for comment.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh has led the push to include LGBT groups. In past years, as a state representative, Walsh marched in the parade, but he recently said he would not march as mayor unless LGBT groups could participate.
On Saturday, Walsh said he had a productive meeting with organizers that day and that he hoped to meet again to resolve concerns on both sides.
Parade organizers said Sunday that they had not yet been invited to another meeting. A MassEquality spokesman said the group would welcome a meeting to resolve the issue.
Parade organizer Philip J. Wuschke Jr. said he was “open to meeting with anybody,” but expressed disappointment that MassEquality appeared unwilling to follow the requirement that parade participants not advocate political agendas.
“We have invited them, and if you go by their website, so far it looks like they don’t want to abide by the rules,” he said. Messages of LGBT equality are not in keeping with the messages of pride in Irish heritage the parade promotes, he said.
Former Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino, who declined to participate in the parade because LGBT groups were excluded, also had praise for Walsh.
“He’s done a good job so far,” Menino said. “He’s stuck in there trying to make it happen. You’ve got to give him credit.”