Congressman Stephen F. Lynch said Saturday that negotiations were continuing on allowing a contingent of openly gay veterans to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day parade and that he thought there was a 50-50 chance that the group would march.
There should be a way to allow the gay veterans to be involved in the parade, Lynch said, and recognized for their service to the country. The South Boston congressman suggested that the controversy could prompt him to skip the parade, an event he has been marching in since he was 4 years old.
“If I think the veterans — all the veterans, including the gay veterans — have been treated fairly, then I’ll consider marching,” Lynch said. “If I think that they have been treated unfairly, then I’ll probably decline the opportunity to march.”
Lynch made the comments outside St. Monica’s Church in South Boston, where a corned beef and cabbage luncheon drew scores of senior citizens already decked out in St. Patrick’s Day green. The event included parade organizers Philip J. Wuschke Jr. and John “Wacko” Hurley, who reiterated Saturday that nothing had changed since they rejected MassEquality’s application to march because organizers felt they had been misled by the statewide gay rights group.
MassEquality applied to march on behalf of 20 gay veterans, but parade organizers have said that they have been able to produce only one veteran. MassEquality has disputed the organizers’ claim that they were dishonest on their application and said the group had plenty of veterans ready to march.
Officials at MassEquality did not respond to calls seeking comment.
“I think there are several” gay veterans who want to march, Lynch said. “And even if there are only several, they should be allowed to march. There should be no numerical requirement. Even if there are only a handful, they should be recognized for their service. I think that’s only fair.”
Lynch said that he planned to meet with Wuschke, Hurley, MassEquality, and Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who has been trying to broker a compromise.
On Saturday, Walsh arrived a few minutes late to the corned beef and cabbage luncheon and bounded up to the stage, where he looked out at a crowd that included Wuschke, Hurley, and scores of senior citizens.
“I just want to tell you the reason why I’m late,” Walsh said, tongue in cheek. “President Obama called me on the way here and he asked me if I could call Wacko Hurley and the two of us would go to Russia and solve the problems they’re having.”
The reference to Russia’s invasion of the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine may have been hyperbolic, but it hinted at the acrimonious turn parade negotiations took in the last week. A deal seemed to be within reach that would have ended a two-decade ban on openly gay groups.
The South Boston controversy dates to early 1990s and reached the US Supreme Court, which handed parade organizers a landmark victory. The court ruled that although the parade was on public streets, it was a privately organized event protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The government could not interfere to prevent organizers from prohibiting gays and lesbians or any other group.
Parade organizers maintain that gays and lesbians have always marched as individuals with other groups. Organizers also contend they bar all political messages, whether it is a poster from Pro Life group or a reference to sexual orientation.
At Walsh’s urging, parade organizers broke longstanding precedent and invited MassEquality to participate this year, but marchers would be barred from wearing T-shirts or holding signs that included references to sexual orientation. MassEquality rejected the condition.
The parade is organized by the Allied War Veterans Council, which posted a statement on its website Thursday night that said sponsors were being pressured to withhold support.
“We appreciate your continued support in lieu of the derogatory correspondence some of you received as a plot to circumvent donations greatly needed to finance this parade,” the statement read. “We have always tried to keep things on an even [keel] with regard to our changing community and political correctness . . . We’re not perfect, we’re a group of volunteers that love this parade.”
Outside the luncheon at St. Monica’s Church, Walsh told reporters that he continued to hold out hope for a deal before the parade steps off next Sunday.
“We’re in a period where hopefully both sides can take a step back and we can make something happen,” Walsh said.