Metro

Pressure mounts on parade organizers to allow gay marchers

OUTVETS representatives marched in the 2016 St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Steven Senne/Associated Press/File

OUTVETS representatives marched in the 2016 St. Patrick’s Day parade.

The South Boston veterans council that barred a gay veterans group from the St. Patrick’s Day parade found itself under siege Thursday, with an American Legion post withdrawing from the council and yet another parade corporate sponsor threatening to drop its support.

The Allied War Veterans Council, which has organized the parade since 1947, also faced questions about its makeup and decision making. Some of the votes cast against the gay veterans group in a 9-4 decision came from council members who either did not serve in the military or do not live in South Boston.

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Parade organizer Timothy Duross, for example, is not a veteran but voted Tuesday to bar the group, called OUTVETS, according to several people with knowledge of the decision. Phillip Wuschke, who also voted to exclude the group, lives in Stoughton, they said.

Neither man could be reached for comment, and the council did not address questions raised about its membership. However, the council issued a statement that sought to explain its decision, saying OUTVETS missed the application deadline for the March 19 event and would have violated the parade’s regulations about displays.

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“OUTVETS was informed that our Code of Conduct prohibits the advertisement or display of one’s sexual orientation, and that the ‘rainbow’ flag on its banners and logo was in violation of this rule,” the statement said.

Negotiations resumed Thursday as leaders from the veterans council and OUTVETS — prodded by South Boston residents US Representative Stephen Lynch, state Representative Nick Collins, City Councilor Michael Flaherty, and City Council candidate Edward Flynn — explored ways to end the impasse.

Dave Wedge, a spokesman for Flynn, said Thursday night that the talks “seemed to be progressing well. We are hopeful that this situation will be rectified, possibly as soon as Friday.’’

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The council has about 25 members, traditionally drawn from each of the veterans posts in South Boston. Its business is conducted in private, and individual votes are not disclosed, according to people familiar with the council.

But politicians who represent South Boston said the renewed controversy over whether gay groups can march threatens to tarnish the national perception of the neighborhood.

“What is clear is that the individuals making the decision to ban OUTVETS don’t have the interests of South Boston or our veterans in mind,” said Flaherty, who was an early supporter of marriage equality. “What did they think, that they were more gay in 2017?”

A long line of politicians — including Governor Charlie Baker, Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Senator Edward Markey, US Representatives Lynch and Seth Moulton, and many state and city officials — said they will not march in the parade unless the vote is reversed.

OUTVETS has marched in the last two parades, the first time an openly gay group has been allowed to participate in the 116-year-old march.

The Dedham Institution for Savings, a sponsor of the parade, announced Thursday that it would withdraw its support if OUTVETS is not allowed to take part. The bank joined Stop & Shop, Anheuser-Busch, and Boston Scally Co. in assailing the vote.

“We believe that this decision dishonors all veterans who serve our nation with bravery and distinction. We will not be marching in this year’s parade unless this issue is resolved promptly by the council,” said Gerard Lavoie, chief operating officer for the bank.

Collins questioned in an interview whether all council members knew the OUTVETS application would be on Tuesday’s agenda. As a result, he said, fewer than one-third of the council’s votes were enough to bar the group.

A person held an Irish flag as members of the Regimental Band and Honor Guard from Massachusetts Maritime Academy march during the 2015 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in South Boston.

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/File

A person held an Irish flag as members of the Regimental Band and Honor Guard from Massachusetts Maritime Academy march during the 2015 parade.

“It’s unfortunate that a small handful on the council, never mind in the city, are taking actions that seemingly represent the community of South Boston,” Collins said. “It’s not accurate, and it’s quite troubling.”

After a fierce backlash on Wednesday, the veterans council had scheduled an emergency meeting for Friday night to reconsider the ban, but at least two veterans posts in South Boston already have left the group. Members of the Michael J. Perkins American Legion Post, which dropped out after the vote, upbraided the council in a statement.

“Recent efforts by several non-veteran parade volunteers to guide decision-making has resulted in the subversion of the council as an organization being led by veterans, despite the name,” said the post, which is composed primarily of veterans who served after Sept. 11, 2001.

The post asked that the council remove “veterans” from its title “to prevent destroying the community good will that we and other South Boston veterans posts have worked hard to achieve.”

Another South Boston organization, the Thomas J. Fitzgerald Veterans of Foreign Wars Post, also denounced the move.

“Such restrictions deny veterans the opportunity to be honored for their service and sacrifice,” according to the post, which withdrew from the veterans council last year over its decision to bar Veterans for Peace from the parade.

OUTVETS officials, who met with Duross at the Omni Parker House on Wednesday, continued to insist Thursday that they be allowed to carry the rainbow emblem. The group’s attorney, Dee Dee Edmondson, said Duross offered to let OUTVETS march without the symbol.

Duross told OUTVETS director Bryan Bishop that the emblem “symbolizes sex, and that runs counter to our code of conduct,” Edmondson said.

“I laughed out loud,” recalled Edmondson, who said the discussion became heated but respectful. “It was fine for two years, and now it’s not fine? What you’re saying is, don’t be gay, just look like us and act like us, and you can be in the parade.”

Flaherty said the veterans council should pay more attention to safety issues such as public drinking and fighting.

“The South Boston community needs to take control of the parade back or move it downtown because it’s no longer family- and community-friendly. It’s like Mardi Gras in South Boston,” Flaherty said.

Globe correspondent Andrew Grant contributed to this report. Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at brian.macquarrie@globe.com.
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