St. Patrick’s Parade Planners to Reconsider Gay Veterans Ban

Update: The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council has agreed to allow OutVets to participate. Click here for more.

The organizers of Boston's St. Patrick's Day parade have scheduled an emergency meeting for Friday to reconsider their vote to bar a gay veterans group from participating.

The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, which organizes the parade, and representatives of OutVets met Wednesday, said Ed Flynn, a council member who voted to allow the gay veterans' group to march.

Flynn is the only member of the council to comment publicly. Emails and telephone calls to the council's leadership have gone unanswered.

"I remain hopeful that my colleagues on the council will correct this situation and join me in voting for inclusion" at Friday's meeting, said Flynn, a 25-year Navy veteran. "If this vote does not affirm their right to march in the parade, I will not be marching."

OutVets Executive Director Bryan Bishop says he was told the group was barred this year because they broke parade rules by carrying a rainbow banner - a symbol of LGBTQ pride and solidarity - which the council considers a symbol of gay sexuality.

The parade has long been embroiled in legal controversy, including a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing members of the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council to exclude gay groups on free speech grounds. But with the council's permission, OutVets was allowed to participate for the first time in the parade in 2015.

The council's 9-4 vote Tuesday to bar OutVets drew immediate condemnation from high-profile politicians, including Democratic Mayor Marty Walsh and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who both said they would not participate in this year's parade scheduled for March 19. The parade's Chief Marshal, Dan Magoon, also stepped down.

"If they weren't going to be a part of it, I wasn't going to be a part of it," Magoon said.

The vote also prompted sponsors to withdraw their support for the parade, which in the past has drawn as many as one million spectators to the largely Irish-American South Boston neighborhood.

"The men and women from OutVets, who have bravely served our country, deserve our respect and to be included," Phil Tracey, a spokesman for supermarket chain Stop & Shop, said in a statement. "As a result of the organizer's decision, our South Boston store will no longer sponsor the parade."

The local Teamsters union also announced Thursday that it would not participate in this year's parade.

OutVets released a statement on Thursday saying it is "humbled and moved" by the outpouring of support from elected officials, veterans and others.

"We are encouraged by this unequivocal support for LGBTQ veterans and the LGBTQ community as a whole," the statement said. "Discrimination against one is discrimination against all. We hope for a positive resolution to this situation and hope it is resolved in a timely manner."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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