The evacuation of the Evacuation Day parade
If you hold a parade in Boston and no politicians march, is it still a parade?
I ask this as the evacuation of the Evacuation Day/St. Patrick’s Day parade continues in earnest. The 9-4 decision by the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council to ban a gay veterans group that has marched the last two years has led politicians far and wide to say they’ll boycott the parade.
Ostensibly, the veterans group, OUTVETS, was voted out because they violated the parade’s code of conduct by carrying a banner adorned with a rainbow. Apparently, that’s too gay.
Presumably, all those floats that depict rainbows leading to a leprechaun’s pot of gold will be banned, too.
The council says OUTVETS didn’t submit their application in time, either. But let’s be honest. Whatever reason being cited for excluding OUTVETS is specious. There are members of the Allied War Veterans Council who simply don’t like other veterans identifying themselves as LGBTQ; they want them back in the closet.
Those who oppose veterans identifying themselves as LGBTQ don’t seem to appreciate that many members of OUTVETS served at a time when they could not acknowledge their sexuality, that to do so meant a court martial and a dishonorable discharge. Neither do those who oppose veterans identifying themselves as LGBTQ seem to appreciate that some LGBTQ kid watching the parade might be inclined to volunteer for the military if they see role models, people like them, proudly marching as veterans.
Politicians love parades. And the annual parade in Southie is as much a political tradition as a social event. It’s hard for politicians to pass up the opportunity to press the flesh with thousands. But the reaction among politicians, from Mayor Marty Walsh to Governor Charlie Baker, from Senator Ed Markey to congressmen Steve Lynch and Seth Moulton, has been uniform: If OUTVETS can’t march, they won’t march.
More telling is how many politicians who call Southie home, from Lynch to state Representative Nick Collins to City Councilor Mike Flaherty, are willing to sit it out.
Ed Flynn, a Navy veteran, was one of four parade council members who voted to allow OUTVETS to march. He also just threw his hat in the ring to contest the City Council seat that Bill Linehan is vacating. The parade would be a great way to reach potential voters. But for Flynn, it’s not a close call.
“I can’t march in a parade when other veterans are excluded,” he said. “To me, it’s not a political issue.”
That said, Flynn believes the vast majority of South Boston residents support OUTVETS, not the people who voted to exclude them.
“People in South Boston support all veterans,” he said.
While it is natural to focus so much attention on the solidarity politicians are showing with OUTVETS, the veterans who don’t want OUTVETS to march tend to dismiss the pols, seeing them as pandering and self-serving.
It’s much harder to ignore the parade sponsors that are pulling out and to dismiss the stance of Dan Magoon, who resigned as the parade’s grand marshal after the council voted to exclude OUTVETS. Magoon was respectful in his resignation, even wishing the parade success. But he stood firm on his principles.
“The freedom that we possess to hold such an event is due to the men and women who have spilled their blood in defense of this great nation, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, and who they share relations with,” Magoon said.
Dan Magoon grew up in Southie. He served three combat deployments with the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a Boston firefighter, and as executive director of Massachusetts Fallen Heroes has done so much to help Gold Star families and veterans.
If there is anyone in Boston who does more to help vets than Dan Magoon, I can’t wait to meet them.
And as the parade council reconsiders its vote Friday, Dan Magoon’s words should ring loudly in their ears.