(MORE UPDATES) But Identity Restrictions Rankle LGBT Groups
By: Chuck Colbert* /TRT Reporter—
The push back was strong and immediate in the local LGBT community as word spread this weekend that Boston Mayor Martin J. “Marty” Walsh has persuaded organizers of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade to invite the grassroots advocacy organization MassEquality to march in South Boston’s annual parade — provided no one wear T-shirts or carry signs identifying their sexual orientation. In other words, no indicators of gay pride or LGBT identity would be permitted.
“Since early this morning [Saturday, March 1], my email and phone hasn’t stopped,” said Sylvain Bruni, president of Boston Pride. “People are pissed and not happy” with the deal put forward. [pullquote]“Since early this morning [Saturday, March 1], my email and phone hasn’t stopped,” said Sylvain Bruni, president of Boston Pride. “People are pissed and not happy” with the deal put forward.[/pullquote]
“Everyone who reached out to us,” Bruni added, “really doesn’t like it” and “feels it is an affront to the LGBT community even to think it would be acceptable to ask people not to be themselves.”
“I have yet to hear anybody who thinks this is a good idea,” said Bruni. “Every person who has reached out to us said that MassEquality should say ‘No.’”
On behalf of Boston Pride, Bruni strongly urged MassEquality to reject the identity-maker restrictions proposed by the Allied War Veterans Council (AWVC) parade organizers.
“Our community has battled for almost 45 years to gain recognition, acceptance and visibility,” Bruni wrote in an email to the organization and press statement. “We cannot accept a request to go back into the closet for the sake of marching in the South Boston Parade.”
He explained, “Requesting that LGBT marchers conceal their identities in a public event dedicated to celebrating its participants’ heritage is commensurate with the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, which our community has fought so hard to repeal. Accepting the terms proposed by the AWVC would send the message that it’s okay for gay people to exist, as long as no one knows they are gay, as long as they don’t say anything about it, as long as they don’t cast any ‘shame’ on the Irish and military heritage on display during the parade. Worse, it would acknowledge that denying visibility to the LGBT community is acceptable in 2014.”
Bruni also noted that “LGBT persons are not the only ones against whom the AWVC discriminates,” he wrote, citing the examples of Veterans for Peace and the Foundation for International Justice.
“We cannot turn our back on them now; we must stay united in the fight against all discrimination,” Bruni wrote. [pullquote]“Requesting that LGBT marchers conceal their identities in a public event dedicated to celebrating its participants’ heritage is commensurate with the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, which our community has fought so hard to repeal. Accepting the terms proposed by the AWVC would send the message that it’s okay for gay people to exist, as long as no one knows they are gay, as long as they don’t say anything about it, as long as they don’t cast any ‘shame’ on the Irish and military heritage on display during the parade. — Bruni said. [/pullquote]
Veterans for Peace spokesman Pat Scanlon told the Boston Globe, “I applaud the effort, but I think it’s clearly not enough,” he said, adding, “We really think the city should take back the parade.”
News of a potential breakthrough allowing LGBT participation for the first time in two decades broke in The Boston Globe on Saturday morning under the headline “Gay group invited to march in Southie parade” with the subtitle “Walsh-brokered parade deal forbids reference to orientation in signs, shirts.”
The mayor’s press secretary issued a statement saying Walsh met with U.S. Representative Stephen Lynch on the parade matter: “It was a very positive meeting, and they remain optimistic that a solution can be reached that will work for all parties involved.”
Local broadcast media, including Channel 5 (the local ABC affiliate), Channel 4 (CBS affiliate), and New England Cable News followed the story with evening broadcast reporting. Both Coredini and Mayor Walsh commented on camera.
“Anybody marching should be proud of who they are,” Walsh said.
Voicing hope that a compromise could be worked out, Coredini said the issue was not whether LGBT people have marched in the parade. Rather, it’s about being “allowed to march openly,” she said, referring to LGBT veterans who would like to march. [pullquote]Voicing hope that a compromise could be worked out, Coredini said the issue was not whether LGBT people have marched in the parade. Rather, it’s about being “allowed to march openly,” she said, referring to LGBT veterans who would like to march.[/pullquote]
Sunday, March 2, a Boston Herald columnist weighed in on the matter. The New York Times also had a news story.
Altogether, LGBT people voiced plenty of reservations. Through social media, for example, Boston attorney Scott E. Squillace urged Facebook users to “Tell MassEquality to Reject the Backwards St. Patrick Day Parade Deal.” So far, the Facebook page has 192 likes.
“Don’t forget…there IS an alternative to the homophobic St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” wrote M. Lara Hoke, in a posting. “You can be in the parade that follows immediately afterwards, the inclusive St. Patrick’s Peace Parade.”
Also posting on Facebook, Boston attorney Tim Schofield wrote, “I love MassEquality and I truly appreciate the hard work by Mayor Walsh and others and I really, really hope it is successful in opening the parade to everyone, but open does not mean one group gets to march on behalf of a diverse community, even if that group can wear and say whatever it wants. The boycott has meaning because we ALL say, NO, we will not march if you continue to exclude our families and friends and neighbors. Token representation is not only offensive, [but also] it undermines and divides our community. The point of the boycott was never to get one group or another into the parade; it was and is to show that we will stand together against discrimination until we are all allowed to march.”
In a subsequent post, he added, “Tokenism is not equality. One group can march IF they do it in the closet? So, our pride is the price of equality?”
Still, Randy Foster of South Boston, a gay Iraq war veteran, offered a different point of view. [pullquote]The boycott has meaning because we ALL say, NO, we will not march if you continue to exclude our families and friends and neighbors. Token representation is not only offensive, [but also] it undermines and divides our community. —Boston attorney Tim Schofield via Facebook[/pullquote]
“At some point we have to stop being gay activists,” Foster wrote in a March 1 Boston Globe letter-to-the-editor. “I’ve fought my entire life to be accepted as normal, to fit in, and to belong. The Allied War Veterans Council has asked only that I not wave the gay flag as a political statement to distract from its day, just as they ask the same of antiwar and anti-abortion protesters. For Saint Patrick’s Day I go by their rules, and for Gay Pride they follow ours.”
But other LGBT veterans were more resolute in standing firm against invisibility and ostracism.
“If the compromise is LGBT people can walk behind the banner of MassEquality, but cannot display in any shape, way or form what kind of equality we are about, it is a huge step backwards into the closet,” said Janice Carney through e-mail correspondence. “As a transgender, disabled Vietnam Vet for peace, I invite MassEquality to do the right thing and walk in the peace parade. I invite Mayor Walsh to do the right thing and walk in the Peace parade.”
Like Mayor Walsh, Carney is Irish American. She also has roots in various Boston neighborhoods, including the Colombia Point housing project, Fields Corner, Roxbury, Charlestown, and Jamaica Plain. A Vietnam War veteran of the 101st Airborne, she served more recently as past president of the New England LGBT Veterans Inc., which disbanded last year.
“I grew up in an era when gay bashing was a sport practiced most weekends,” she told the mayor in email correspondence to him.
Yet another LGBT veteran offered her perspective. Writing in The Rainbow Times, Erica Kay-Webster of Barnstable said she, too, was bothered by the Allied War Veterans restrictions on signs and T-shirts.
“This is a message that being an LGBT person carries a certain condemnation and says that we are less,” Kay-Webster wrote in an op-ed piece.
Reached by phone and asked what kind of LGBT identity marker would be fitting, she said, “The Rainbow flag.”
“Not everybody knows who and what MassEquality is or what kind of equality it stands for,” she explained, adding that in the gay community, many would recognize the advocacy group, “but not every in the straight community.” [pullquote]“Not everybody knows who and what MassEquality is or what kind of equality it stands for,” she explained, adding that in the gay community, many would recognize the advocacy group, “but not every in the straight community.” —Erica Kay Webster[/pullquote]
Chief executive officer of the Foundation for International Justice and Promise Place School for Homeless Youth, Kay-Webster, 63, is also a veteran of the Stonewall Rebellion, a spontaneous uprising that occurred June 28, 1969 at a New York City gay bar between police and patrons and which propelled the growth of the modern LGBT civil rights and liberation movement.
Asked also about the AWVC’s restrictions on identity makers of sexual orientation, Boston Pride’s Bruni said, “There should be no restrictions on what people can say on their signs or T-shirts as long as [the message] does not violate [standards of] decency and are not calling for violence or hatred.”
“[Parade organizers] should lift the ban on anything gay related,” Bruni explained. “If people want to have a sign that says ‘I’m gay and Irish and proud,’ I just don’t get it. What’s the problem?”
But as Walsh, Boston’s first Irish American mayor in 20 years, told local media, “Signs are not permitted by anyone in the parade.”
Negotiations and conversations among the mayor, parade organizers, and leadership from MassEquality are expected to continue this week.
MassEquality’s Coredini has said the conversations are a step in the right direction.
“At this point, my mind is open, and I am hopeful we can get to a place where we can end the exclusion,” she told the Globe. “This is huge.”
For his part, Philip J. Wuschke, Jr., a parade organizer for the AWVC told The New York Times in an interview, “It will happen,” referring to a “solution.”
REPEATED ATTEMPTS to reach Wuschke were unsuccessful.
Walsh has consistently said he would not march in the parade if gay groups are not permitted to participate.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts condemned parade sponsors’ invitation to MassEquality, calling it “a cowardly abandonment of long standing principles, a disgraceful surrender to political pressure, and a callous betrayal of all those, living and dead, who fought to defend their constitutional rights,” according to a statement on the group’s website. [pullquote]Meanwhile, the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts condemned parade sponsors’ invitation to MassEquality, calling it “a cowardly abandonment of long standing principles, a disgraceful surrender to political pressure, and a callous betrayal of all those, living and dead, who fought to defend their constitutional rights,” according to a statement on the group’s website.[/pullquote]
The AWVC’s annual parade has been a signature event in the City of Boston’s celebration of St. Patrick’s Day for years and is believed to be the nation’s second largest. Each year, the parade draws more than half a million people into the iconic South Boston neighborhood. Marchers trek the more than four-mile parade route, which begins on West Broadway (Broadway Station T stop), continues onto East Broadway, making its way back via East Fourth, East Fifth Street, and G Street, around Dorchester Heights, and onto Dorchester Avenue (Andrew Station T stop).
The AWVC parade is not the only parade in South Boston. In fact, two parades have trekked through the same neighborhood streets since 2010 when the Veterans for Peace first applied but were rejected. Peace Vet Scanlon said parade organizers used not wanting the word “peace” connected to the word “veteran” as reason enough to ban the group from marching.
All told, “Participation by gay groups in the South Boston parade, scheduled for March 16, would mark a significant cultural shift in ‘Southie,’” noted Katharine Q. Seelye in the Sunday New York Times. “Long an insular Irish enclave known nationally for the riots stemming from court-ordered busing in the 1970s, the neighborhood has changed in recent years, with a renovated waterfront and an influx of young professionals.”
The annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade is scheduled for Sunday, March 16, with a kick off time of 1 p.m.
*Chuck Colbert marched in the 1992 and 1993 South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade as one of 25 participants in the Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston.
Great article Chuck!
Yes–great article. Too bad that there are so many stipulations. I’m glad the Still River folks backed out. I feel sorry for the kids from there—they look so unhappy and uptight.
South Boston Allied War Veterans Council
P.O. Box 350 South Boston MA. 02127
The South Boston St. Patrick’s Day / Evacuation Day Parade
3, March 2014
At a recent meeting of The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, a motion was brought up about reconsidering an application that had been previously rejected. This application was submitted by LGBT Veterans of Equality, (An affiliate of Mass Equality). The reason for this rejection was a clear violation of our “No sexual orientation” rule, and not that we ban Gay people as reported by the press.
The application stated that 20 United States Veterans wished to March with Mayor Walsh and other Politicians in this year’s parade. They also indicated that they were a “Veterans Organization”, “helping Veterans from Cradle to Grave”. After some consideration, the Council agreed that Any Veteran should be allowed to march, regardless of sexual orientation. Further, any organization which helps our Veterans is welcome. This application was conditionally approved as submitted with the understanding that These 20 Veterans can march but no sexual orientation would be displayed, and the group would comply with our standard “Code of Conduct”, followed by all marching units in this parade.
To our surprise, the offer was rejected by Mass Equality’s representative Kara Coredini. Her rejection was based on the fact that we would not allow LGBT Veterans to identify themselves as openly Gay by means of signage and T Shirts Identifying Them as LGBT Veteran. This clearly violates our code of conduct.
At a closed door City Hall meeting last night it was made clear to us that the LGBT Veterans for Equality do not have 20 United States Veterans who wish to march. Rather, they presented only one supposed Veteran and a group of others carrying rainbow flags. When asked about a Color Guard, their loan Veteran replied that he wasn’t sure he could supply any more Veterans willing to march.
The Council performs background checks on groups wishing to march prior to their acceptance. We were unable to find any evidence of LGBT Veterans for Equality that would confirm them as a recognized Veterans Organization.
We appreciate the efforts the Mayor’s office to try and mediate this issue. However it is our intention to keep this an Irish Celebration, dedicated to our Men and Women serving in our Armed Forces. We will fight to keep our parade and its traditions.
Therefore, we The Allied War Veterans of South Boston fell we were misled by LGBT Veterans for Equality. It is our belief that the application submitted to us by LGBT Veterans for Equality was a ploy by them to enter this parade under false pretenses and is hereby denied.
It is our intention to keep this parade a family friendly event. We will not allow any group to damage the Integrity of the historic event or our reputation as a safe and fun filled day for all. We strive to hold the largest and most entertaining St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the Country.
God Bless our Troops and God Bless this Country!
What a crock of shit!! The Allied War Veterans are homophobes and hate gay people. Gay people marching are families and we are family
Friendly too. The judgment you cast on others is unGodly and your parade is an act if discrimination. To me you’re no different than the KKK. I hope that you’re ok with being bigots. You’re not Irish, you’re just unGodly Bigots. That should be your parade’s
Name. Wake up, America. This is what division, hatred and blatant discrimination looks like. Just exactly what Jesus would do!! May God grant you all of the wishes you wish upon us, the family-friendly, loving and committed gay community.
March 3, 2014
CONTACT: C. J. DOYLE (781) 251-9739
CATHOLIC ACTION LEAGUE APPLAUDS IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY SCHOOL FOR REFUSING TO MARCH IN BOSTON’S ST. PATRICK’S DAY PARADE
The Catholic Action League of Massachusetts today commended the administrators, teachers, and students of Immaculate Heart of Mary School for withdrawing their band and float from Boston’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade after parade organizers invited the same sex marriage advocacy group, MassEquality, to march. The school’s float of Saint Patrick blessing the children was, for many years, the iconic symbol of the Boston parade.
The Catholic Action League called the school’s decision to withdraw “an act of courage, integrity, and fidelity to the moral teachings of the Catholic religion.”
Catholic Action League Executive Director C. J. Doyle stated: “At a time when so many Catholics conform to the culture, it is profoundly edifying to see the splendid example of Catholic witness offered by Immaculate Heart of Mary School. The Catholic community ought to be grateful that there is at least one Catholic institution left in Massachusetts whose members have the faith, fortitude, and sovereignty of mind to act unreservedly in defense of their Catholic principles. Clearly, at Immaculate Heart of Mary School, they not only profess the Catholic Faith, they live it.”
“This valiant example of unflinching devotion to Catholic Faith and morals deserves to be both emulated by other Catholic organizations and affirmed by the leadership of the Archdiocese of Boston.”
Immaculate Heart of Mary School, administered by the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, is located in Still River, in the Town of Harvard, in the Diocese of Worcester.
March 1, 2014
CONTACT: C. J. DOYLE (781) 251-9739
CATHOLIC ACTION LEAGUE CONDEMNS DECISION TO INVITE MASSEQUALITY TO MARCH IN ST. PATRICK’S DAY PARADE
The Catholic Action League of Massachusetts today condemned the decision of the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council—the sponsors of Boston’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade—to invite the state’s largest same sex marriage lobby, MassEquality, to march in the parade on March 16th.
Parade coordinator Tom Duross said “We’d be happy to have them here. And we’d be proud to have them here….You’re a great organization, you do wonderful things for people, and therefore we’d be happy to have you in our parade.”
The Catholic Action League called the about face by the Council “a cowardly abandonment of longstanding principles, a disgraceful surrender to political pressure, and a callous betrayal of all those, living and dead, who fought to defend their constitutional rights.”
Catholic Action League Executive Director C. J. Doyle stated: “We will, perhaps, never know what means Mayor Walsh used to bribe, bully or cajole the veterans into reversing their position, but he certainly delivered for the powerful and affluent special interest which did so much to promote and finance his mayoral campaign.”
“The so-called restrictions which supposedly forbid mention of sexual orientation are entirely fraudulent, a sham and a fig leaf. As Duross himself has said: ‘Everybody knows who MassEquality is.’ ”
With this decision to dishonor Saint Patrick, the veterans council should have the minimal decency to change the name of the parade, as it no longer has any meaningful connection to the Catholic saint who brought the Faith to Ireland. Catholic organizations should refuse to participate in a parade that hosts a group which demonizes Catholic moral teachings as bigotry, hatred and prejudice.”
“No one should forget the origin of this controversy. In 1992, a group of aggressive sociopaths tried to force their way into somebody else’s parade despite the fact that their message and values were radically at variance with those of the parade organizers. Now, 22 years later, with the help of Boston’s bought and paid for political class, they have finally succeeded.”
“This episode should remind us of the thuggish, totalitarian character of the homosexual movement, which has no regard for the rights, beliefs, and sensibilities of others, and which thinks that all of those who resist its demands must be pressured and coerced into submission, as the veterans were evidently pressured and coerced into submission yesterday.”
“This decision is a milestone defeat for religious freedom, moral sanity, and what very little remains of Boston’s once Catholic identity. As for the Archdiocese of Boston, its silence was as shameful as it was predictable.”
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says he’s still hopeful for a deal allowing a gay group to march in South Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Organizers say talks to include gay groups for the first time in two decades have fallen apart. Walsh, the son of Irish immigrants, is still trying to bring the sides together.
NPR’s Tovia Smith reports.
TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Gay rights activists called it historic that they were even talking to parade organizers. But now, chances for a deal are slipping.
PHIL WUSCHKE: The parade is actually closed. It’s a done deal. We’re done accepting applications.
SMITH: Parade organizer Phil Wuschke says there was talk of a compromise allowing the group MassEquality to march as long as the word gay wasn’t on their T-shirts or signs. The focus, Wuschke says, has to be on St. Patrick Day.
WUSCHKE: It’s a day of celebration not demonstration. And if they – well, they’re not going to follow our rules.
CHUCK COLBERT: No one wants to feel they have to be back in the closet.
SMITH: That’s Chuck Colbert who marched in the parade with a gay group in the early ’90s, before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that parade organizers could exclude them. Now, Colbert says making gays hide who they are is an insult.
COLBERT: I remember a time when I was very closeted and that was very shaming. And so, to go back to that, to pretend you can’t say who you are or wink-wink, nod-nod, just doesn’t cut it anymore.
SMITH: The compromise has also drawn protest from some parade marchers.
BROTHER THOMAS DALTON: If they’re in, we’re out.
SMITH: Brother Thomas Dalton is principal of the Immaculate Heart of Mary School, whose marching band and float with a waving St. Patrick has become the unofficial symbol of the parade.
(SOUNDBITE OF BAGPIPE MUSIC AND CHEERING)
SMITH: Now, Dalton says he can’t march with gay rights activists, regardless of whether they wear it on their sleeves.
DALTON: When they come in with a problem, you know, a sin and they say we are not sinners, this is what we’re going to promote as a virtue, we don’t want to have any part with that. You know, if they want to share their Irishness, that’s fine. But they want to share their sinfulness. They want to promote it. How can we do that?
SMITH: But would-be marchers like Colbert say they want to express both their Irish pride and gay pride. And Colbert says the Boston Irish should understand.
COLBERT: You know, both groups have been the brunt of oppression and ostracism. So, I still go back to – when Irish eyes are smiling all the world is gay. And I would add – and straight and lesbian and transgender.
[Note all: I thought I said bisexual, too. If not, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.]
SMITH: In past years, gay activists have marched in their own shadow parade. MassEquality’s Kara Coredini concedes that given other battles for gay rights, the parade fight doesn’t really rank. But symbolically, she says it’s huge.
KARA COREDINI: So just as parade for a long time has been a symbol of those challenges, it’s really poised to be a symbol of the progress that were making and that neighborhoods and communities are really changing.
SMITH: But maybe not enough. There are lots of ways gay groups could march openly and honestly, as Coredini puts it. But it seems, even wearing a rainbow symbol, instead of the word gay, may have doomed the deal.
Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
The St. Patrick’s Day parade — then and now
By Chuck Colbert
March 06, 2014
Two decades ago, I trekked the St. Patrick’s Day Parade route though the streets of South Boston on two occasions.
I am Irish, a veteran, and gay. U nder court order and with police protection, 25 of us — members of the Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston — experienced a barrage of uncharitable, less-than-neighborly behavior.
For hours, we endured a barrage of sexually suggestive slurs, homophobic epithets, and obscene gestures — mostly from youths. One sign read, “No gay Irish Need Apply.”
It was traumatic.
As a Roman Catholic priest put in a homily in church one Sunday shortly afterwards, “It was one of the most despicable public displays of bigotry, prejudice, and potential for violence this city had seen in a generation.”
But that was then, and this is now.
The iconic neighborhood of South Boston has changed — and changed dramatically for the better. It is more welcoming, neighborly, and hospitable.
For that reason, I am sad to see a breakdown in negotiations and conversations among the mayor, MassEquality, and Allied War Veterans Council, the parade organizers.
I encourage all parties to take a deep breath, assume the best of each other’s motivations and intentions, and start talking again.
A key sticking point seems to be the mention of the words “gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender,’’ or LGBT. For many of us, those words are not indicators or statements of in-your-face political activism. Rather, they are one way that we — as a largely invisible minority — let others know who we are and that we are proud of our minority, identity status.
Of course, gay identity has a political and activist dimension, given the fall of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the advent of same-sex marriage, and attempts to carve out religious exemptions against LGBTs.
But on St. Patrick’s Day, when as my mother tells me, everyone is Irish anyway, why can’t someone like me march in Southie’s big parade?
I cannot speak for others who marched in 1992 and 1993, but my motivation was to connect Irish/Celtic pride with gay pride — nothing more, nothing less. I am also a veteran and a 1978 Notre Dame grad; just how many more bona fide Irish-American credentials need be supplied?
Just as I did then, I mean no ill will toward the Allied War Veterans Council or South Boston residents.
Recently, many have asked: Why do you have to say that you are gay, why do you have to tell us, why is a visible identity marker — words or a symbol — so important?
Simply put, I cannot go back. Returning to self-censorship just doesn’t cut it anymore. Those of us who suffered the shame and stigma of the closet will not revisit that twilight zone ever again. The costs were tremendous and unbearable, utterly self-destructive.
Furthermore, despite what some contend, there is no such thing as the so-called “gay lifestyle” anymore than there is an Irish, Catholic, or clerical “lifestyle.”
So let me offer a suggestion: If I — or anyone — were to march in an LGBT-identified contingent, holding a small Irish tricolor and rainbow flag, would that be acceptable to parade organizers? What about green T-shirts with a rainbow flag imprinted on it? What about carrying rainbow-colored balloons or banners?
With all the creativity among the Irish of Boston and the city’s LGBT community, surely we can move the parade to forward march for all.
Meanwhile, I can’t get the words of the song out of my head: “When Irish eyes are smiling, all the world seems bright and gay” — and lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and straight.
Chuck Colbert is a freelance journalist.