NYC Allows Gay Group in St. Patrick’s Day Parade; Is Boston Next?

Spectators watch the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in the South Boston neighborhood of Boston, Sunday, March 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Spectators watched the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in the South Boston neighborhood earlier this year.
Michael Dwyer/AP

A gay group is set to march in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade for the first time, according to the Associated Press. The presence of gay-identified organizations in Boston’s parade, meanwhile, remains a major issue for next year.

NYC’s St. Patrick’s Day parade committee announced that OUT@NBCUniversal, a resource group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and straight allies, will be allowed to march in the 2015 parade under its own identifying banner. No group aligned with LGBTQ issues has previously marched in the 252-year-old parade, an issue that caused NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio to refuse to walk in the parade earlier this year, and caused Guinness to drop its sponsorship.

The decision is particularly relevant to Bostonians, given that the widely-attended South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade has continually denied gay groups from marching over the past two decades.

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“[NYC’s decision] is a small step in the right direction, and I hope it impacts what happens in Boston next year,” longtime gay activist Cathy Renna told Boston.com. “But the issue is not going to go away.”

The Boston Police Gaelic Column marches in the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in the South Boston neighborhood of Boston, Sunday, March 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
A wide range of groups participated in 2014’s annual South Boston Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, but none of those groups were openly gay.
Michael Dwyer/AP

A plan last year to finally allow MassEquality, a gay advocacy group, to join the parade fell apart when the event’s private organizers insisted the group hide their sexual orientation. That was a dealbreaker for MassEquality, which likened the requirement to being pushed back into the closet.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh refused to participate in the parade in protest. Samuel Adams beer company also decided not to participate amid the negative publicity.

On Wednesday, the mayor’s office affirmed his stance in a statement to Boston.com.

“Mayor Walsh has been firm in his assertion that there is no place for exclusion in the City of Boston with any celebration,” the mayor’s press secretary Kate Norton said in an email. “He will continue his efforts to ensure that Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is inclusive and welcoming for all.”

MassEquality, too, called the NYC decision “a welcome and long overdue first step toward full inclusion,” in a statement, but noted that it was not the end of the issue.

“MassEquality will continue to work shoulder-to-shoulder with its New York peer, the Empire State Pride Agenda, towards the day when both the South Boston and New York St. Patrick’s Day Parades fully end their discriminatory bans and allow all LGBT groups to march,” MassEquality added.

Renna said New York’s decision was “very limited” in scope, given that it only allowed a gay group affiliated with NBC — a major corporate sponsor — to march. Boston’s parade, she noted, doesn’t have a high-powered sponsor with that type of influence.

In a statement last year, the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, the parade organizer, explained its opposition to the MassEquality group’s parade application.

“We will not allow anyone to express harmful or inappropriate messages,” the Council said. “Rest assured, we will continue to exclude anyone that tries to compromise the public’s enjoyment of this parade.”

The Allied War Veterans Council did not respond to requests for comment.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mislabeled a photo of the South Boston Association of Non Profits as marching in the parade ‘in protest.’