With New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade taking a significant step Wednesday toward ending its prohibition on openly gay participants, Irish eyes are looking northward -- to Boston.
In a town that takes its Irish heritage seriously, the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade may very well emerge next March 17 as a ground zero of tensions between conservative Catholics and gay-rights supporters. In recent years, Boston and New York have been the highest-profile cities in which gay groups are still prohibited from participating openly in annual St. Patrick’s Day parades. Last year, newly elected mayors of both cities -- Bill de Blasio in New York and Martin Walsh in Boston -- refused to march in the events until the bans were lifted, while longtime parade sponsors withdrew their support under boycott threats from LGBT groups.
In the immediate aftermath of last year’s controversies, it seemed as if neither parade would budge, but in an unexpected move on Wednesday, organizers in New York said they have agreed to allow a group representing LGBT employees at NBCUniversal to march under their own banner -- a first for the centuries-old event. Other openly gay groups, the organizers said, will be allowed to apply to march in future parades. The abrupt about-face brought praise from prominent LGBT groups. “It’s about time,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, in a statement.
Boston’s parade may prove to be a tougher nut to crack. In a statement, MassEquality -- the Massachusetts-based advocacy group that has been fighting to get Boston parade organizers to end their ban -- applauded the progress in New York as a “welcome and long overdue first step toward full inclusion.” But reached by email Wednesday, MassEquality spokesman Mike Givens conceded that no such progress has been made in Boston at this time. The two sides had a falling out last year after a plan to allow a group of LGBT veterans to march fell through.
Meanwhile, the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, the group that organizes the parade, doesn’t appear very eager to discuss the matter. Philip J. Wuschke Jr., the parade’s chief organizer, did not return phone calls or emails seeking comment.
In the past, Wuschke and company have remained consistent in their stance that the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade is simply a nonpolitical event. LGBT people are welcome to participate, organizers insist, so long as they don’t wear identifying clothing or carry identifying banners and flags. But to the parade’s critics, that line of thinking itself is part of the problem, perpetuating the notion that acknowledging one’s sexuality is akin to a political statement. It’s a particularly untenable argument in a country where support for LGBT rights is growing and, as poll after poll shows, those who oppose gay equality are part of an ever-slimmer minority.
At other major St. Patrick’s Day Parades -- including parades in Chicago and, notably, Dublin -- gay groups have marched for years without incident. And now New York City, home of the country’s oldest and largest St. Patrick’s Day Patrick’s Day Parade, has rightfully followed suit. That this stubbornly persistent fight continues in Massachusetts, where the country’s first same-sex marriages were held more than a decade ago, is beyond ironic.