A group representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender military veterans will be marching in Boston’s annual Veterans Day parade next week, the first time such an organization will participate in the festivities, it was announced on Friday.
OutVets, a nonpartisan and nonpolitical group for LGBT veterans and their families and supporters, was welcomed by parade organizers from the American Legion, in stark contrast to the annual controversy over the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade, which also honors veterans and whose organizers have repeatedly rejected gay groups from marching.
The group appears to be the first LGBT veterans’ organization that has applied to march, according to Stephen Peers, commander of the Suffolk County Council of the American Legion Department of Massachusetts, which organizes the Veterans Day parade in cooperation with the city of Boston.
“As far as I know, this is the first one . . . as far as LGBT groups asking to join in the parade. We’re very happy to have them,” Peers said.
He said the organization’s apolitical goal of simply celebrating the service of its members and others like them made it easy to accept it into Tuesday’s parade.
“The only requirement we have is that they have one large banner . . . and no individual placards,” Peers said.
Bryan Bishop, cofounder of OutVets and chief of staff in the city of Boston’s Veterans Services Department, said it was fitting that Boston be among the first large cities in the country to include gay men and women in its parade.
“Boston seems to always be the melting pot,” said Bishop, 46, who served in the Air Force from 1987 to 2007, rising to the rank of technical sergeant, and who spent most of his career stationed at nearby Hanscom Air Force Base.
Bishop said that the group hopes to march in Boston Pride, the city’s annual parade for the gay community, and in others, such as the Dorchester Day Parade. It may also seek to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, though its board has not made firm plans on whether to apply.
“We look for any opportunity to bring awareness and civic engagement to the service and sacrifice of LGBT veterans,” Bishop said. “We are interested in any parade that honors veterans, and the South Boston parade does.”
But, he said, he is wary of stepping into the controversy that has surrounded the South Boston parade since the 1990s, when attempts by gay groups to march led to a US Supreme Court decision upholding the organizers’ rights to exclude them.
Organizers were unavailable for comment Friday evening.
Bishop said he is grateful to Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who has been supportive of the group and its participation in the parade.
“This is a groundbreaking historical moment that we should all be proud of,” Walsh said in a statement on Friday. “Boston is an inclusive community where everyone deserves to live, work, and play. I commend OutVets on their efforts to ensure that the hard work of LGBTQ veterans are recognized and honored in our city.”
OutVets was incorporated in September on the anniversary of the end of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which required gay men and lesbians in the military to keep their sexual orientation secret or face discharge.
Bishop said both veterans and civilians are welcome to join, whether gay or straight.
The group’s goals are to serve the community, educate the public about the sacrifices of LGBT service members, create a permanent memorial for LGBT service members, and provide its members with the camaraderie they experienced in their service, said Ryan McGill, the organization’s director of communication.
“We’ve sacrificed a lot both in war and in fighting within the military to be open and proud to serve,” said McGill, 38. “We are a group of people that have given the ultimate sacrifice and we want that to be commemorated.”
Francisco Urena, Boston’s commissioner of veterans services and Bishop’s boss, said he was eager to support the group when Bishop told him about it and that he has already seen it make an impact among local gay veterans.
“Bryan is always identifying more veterans, and they’re very excited for Tuesday,” Urena said.
Kara Coredini, executive director of the gay rights group MassEquality, praised the inclusion of OutVets in the parade, in a statement Friday.
“Like all other veterans, LGBTQ veterans have made tremendous sacrifices and bravely served this country honorably and with distinction,” Coredini said. “It is great that there will be an LGBTQ contingent in the Veterans Day Parade and we are fully supportive of OutVets and their vital work.”