The leader of an LGBTQ veterans group will take charge of planning the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade, in a dramatic shift for an event whose organizers were once so opposed to allowing gay marchers that they took their fight to the US Supreme Court.
“This is a demonstration that we have moved forward,” Dave Falvey, commander of the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, which holds the parade, told the Globe. “It’s a different council. It’s a different parade.”
The hiring of Bryan Bishop, the founder and chief executive of OUTVETS, a group formed in 2014 to honor the service of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer veterans, is a major turning point for an organization that had for years kept veterans in the LGBTQ community from marching.
“They see me as a veteran who has organized large events and someone who is passionate about veterans,” Bishop said in a telephone interview. “We’ve come a long way. This is just one more step forward.”
Bishop is an Air Force veteran who worked for 20 years overseeing the Air Force’s Band of Liberty, which stages more than 600 performances each year, the council said in a statement.
Bishop, who is gay, is currently the commissioner of veterans services for the city of Somerville, where he works with nearly 2,000 veterans and their families.
“We’re not being marginalized,” Bishop said of his hiring. “It changes the entire dynamic.”
Placing the founder of OUTVETS in such a prominent role spells an end to a decades-long controversy that pitted the city’s progressive image against its insular past.
The US Supreme Court unanimously affirmed in 1995 that the parade was a privately organized event protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
Parade organizers had the right to exclude any group under that decision.
OUTVETS was the first group honoring veterans from the LGBTQ community to march in the parade.
Parade organizers would try again in 2017 to block LGBTQ marchers from the parade in a last-gasp vote shortly before that year’s celebration.
They reversed course only after local politicians said they would skip the event and major sponsors promised to back out. This year, LGBTQ marchers were also allowed.
Falvey, a major in the Massachusetts National Guard, was among a group of council members who joined because of the decision to bar those veterans in 2017.
The decision to hire Bishop as the director of parade operations — a volunteer job that requires coordination with City Hall and local agencies, among other responsibilities — was officially made by the council’s five officers on Thursday, Falvey said.
Falvey likened the council officers’ decision to hire Bishop to the end of the US military’s policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” which barred LGBTQ people from serving openly in the military.
“We’re an inclusive parade — that is a great thing,” Falvey said Thursday.
“We’re very proud to have the CEO and founder of OUTVETS have a leading role in the parade.”
Bishop said he looked forward to using the parade to highlight Boston’s rich Irish history and honor the service of military members.
“I never thought I would have the opportunity to run this parade,” Bishop said. “It’s a big deal for me.”