The St. Patrick’s Day parade held in South Boston this year is more than a holiday celebration. Instead, it has become a center of controversy, caught in the middle of the gay rights group Mass Equality and the organizers of the parade, which includes the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council.
For the past two decades, the two have fought over whether or not LGBTQ members could march openly in the parade. In 1995, the Supreme Court ruled that the parade was privately organized the organizers were protected by the First Amendment in their decision to stop gay people from marching openly in the parade.
This year, Mass Equality is advocating for a group of gay veterans who want to openly march in the Parade. Parade organizers argue that they don’t allow any type of political messages in the parade and that the rule doesn’t just apply to gay marchers.
In the past, Mayor Menino boycotted the parade over this policy. Mayor Walsh has been attempting to facilitate a compromise over the past months. While a long time supporter of gay rights, Mayor Walsh also has to work with the largely Irish, more conservative population that lives in Boston as well, and to anger either group would make things difficult politically for him.
Walsh has a reputation as a coalition-builder for a long time. To reach a compromise between those two groups, he offered a since-abandoned plan to allow the gay rights group to march as long as they do not wear gay rights T-shirts. Instead of providing a whole change to support gay rights, Walsh tries to make small steps to advocate it.
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio has decided to boycott the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade, which no New York mayor has done for over two decades.
The differences in the political landscapes of New York and Boston are numerous, and Mayor de Blasio has faced criticism for not being liberal enough. Gay advocates have argued that no public officials or workers, such as members of NYPD, should march in a parade that excludes the gay community.
Despite being the first Irish mayor in over 20 years, Walsh will not attend the Boston parade due to the homophobic politics of the parade organizers.
"As mayor of the city of Boston, I have to do my best to ensure that all Bostonians are free to participate fully in the civic life of our city," he said. "Unfortunately, this year, the parties were not able to come to an understanding that would have made that possible."
The future of the parade in Boston remains open, however, and Walsh seems hopeful that continuing talks between the two groups will lead to a more inclusive event in years to come.