A gay veterans group said it has been denied permission to march in this year's Boston St. Patrick's Day parade just two years after organizers made the groundbreaking decision to allow gay groups to participate for the first time.
OutVets shared their disappointment about the decision on its Facebook page Wednesday night. The group said the reason for the rejection is unclear, but they claim it is due to the fact that the group includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender military veterans.
"This is a sad day for the LGBTQ community but also a horrible day for Veterans. We served our country with honor and distinction. But even after successfully participating in this parade and bringing honor to those who have served, we are still fighting for the respect that comes with serving our country."
The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, the parade's organizer, drew immediate condemnation from Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who said he would not participate in this year's parade, scheduled for March 19, unless the council reversed course.
"I will not tolerate discrimination in our city in any form. We are one Boston, which means we are a fully inclusive city," he said. "I will not be marching in the parade unless this is resolved. Anyone who values what our city stands for should do the same."
Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton, an Iraq War veteran, said the decision to bar OutVets from the parade is "outrageous and disgraceful" and called for a boycott.
"Let's just be clear, these are men and women who courageously put their lives on the line for our country," he said. "They deserve our respect as much as anyone, and if this decision is not reversed immediately, I would encourage anyone who supports freedom, equality, and the service of our veterans no matter who they are, to boycott this parade."
Democratic Congressman Stephen Lynch, who represents South Boston, said he will fight for the inclusion of OutVets in the parade and won't march unless the matter is resolved.
"The decision to deny OutVets from the St. Patrick’s Day parade is wrong. It is discriminatory towards the LGBTQ community and it is a disheartening way to treat men and women who dutifully served our nation in the armed forces," he said.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said he also would not participate in the parade if OutVets was excluded. He says denying veterans the chance march in a parade that honors veterans "doesn't make any sense."
Democratic State Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, whose district includes South Boston, asked the council to reconsider its decision.
The South Boston location of Stop & Shop will no longer sponsor the parade, the company announced Wednesday.
"Stop & Shop is committed to diversity and is disappointed in the decision to exclude OutVets from the South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade," the store said in a statement. "The men and women from OutVets, who bravely served our country, deserve our respect and to be included."
Dedham Savings - one of the parade's sponsors - said it is "deeply disappointed" in the council's decision not to allow OutVets to march, and said it will not be marching in the parade unless the issue is resolved.
"We believe that this decision dishonors all veterans who serve our nation with bravery and distinction," the bank said.
Anheuser-Busch also issued a statement condemning the move.
"We value equality and believe diversity enriches our workforce and our world," the company said. "We have been proud to support the LGBTQ community for more than 20 years, not only through our employment practices and marketing campaigns, but also through our association with GLAAD and PRIDE events across the country. We are disappointed to learn that OutVets, who have proudly served this country, have been denied entry to the St. Patrick's Day parade. We are evaluating our participation in this event and urge the parade organizers to reverse their decision."
On Thursday, Teamsters Local 25 released a statement saying they would not take part in the parade unless OutVets is included.
"Today, Teamsters Local 25 is informing the St. Patrick’s Day parade committee, that we are no longer participating in this year’s parade unless OutVets is included in the line-up," President/Principal Officer Sean M. O’Brien said in the statement. "Our Women’s Committee has been proud to walk alongside our tractor trailer for the past several years, but if the organizers shut-out certain organizations, the parade is no longer representative of the 11,000 members of Teamsters Local 25 and our families. I urge the committee to reconsider their decision to make the parade reflective of the city of Boston so that all can enjoy."
The vote left OutVets leadership stunned.
"It's disgusting and disgraceful that they would do this to their own, because we are veterans like them," said Bryan Bishop, an Air Force veteran who founded OutVets.
The council gave no reason for its 9-4 vote, Bishop said.
Emails and phone messages seeking comment from the council on the reasoning were not immediately returned Wednesday.
Ed Flynn, a member of the council, said he voted to allow OutVets to participate in the parade through the largely Irish-American neighborhood, which in the past has drawn as many as one million spectators.
"I am saddened and outraged that the Allied War Veterans Council has voted to turn back the clock on equality," he said in a statement, adding that he will ask the council to reconsider the vote.
Dan Magoon, a veteran who was set to lead this year's parade, quit his honorary position on Wednesday because of the decision to bar OutVets.
"To be a part of a parade excluding OutVets does not coincide with the work I do advocating for all Veterans," he said in a message to the Allied War Veterans Council that was first reported by Universal Hub. "I wish the parade success. The freedoms that we possess to hold such an event is due to the men and women who have spilled their blood in defense to this great nation, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or who they share relations with."
Magoon is the founder of Massachusetts Fallen Heroes, a group dedicated to honoring the memories of Massachusetts men and women who gave their lives serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
OutVets said it has gone out of its way to conform with the parade's code of conduct the last two years.
"If we did break any rules, we were never informed," Bishop said. The only issue OutVets had with parade organizers was over use of their rainbow flag, he said. That issue was resolved.
Bishop said he heard rumblings that OutVets would be barred from this year's parade as far back as November when Brian Mahoney, the former commander of the veterans' council, died.
Mahoney had been firmly in OutVets corner.
"The only thing I can assume is that with Brian no longer there to beat the drum for us they had enough support to put us out," Bishop said.
The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council for decades fought legal battles to keep gay organizations out, even winning a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1995 backing their right to bar gay groups.
"This is a black eye on South Boston," Bishop said. "This is not who we are as Bostonians."
The Catholic Action League, which previously demanded that St. Patrick's name be removed from the 2015 parade because OutVets was allowed to participate, released a statement expressing reaffirming its opposition to LGBT groups marching in the parade.
"Whatever the reason, a parade named in honor of a Catholic saint should never be used as a venue for those who despise and reject Catholic morality, and castigate such morality as bigotry, prejudice and homophobia," Executive Director C.J. Doyle said.