Boston Veterans Day Parade Takes Small Steps in March to Equality

In what Mayor Marty Walsh declared “a groundbreaking historical event,” Boston’s annual Veterans Day parade allowed an LGBTQ group to march for the first time in the event’s history this past Tuesday, November 11. The recently formed Boston-based group, OutVets, seeks to represent LGBTQ military veterans and promote awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender members of the armed forces.

From Boston Common to City Hall, about 20 marchers walked carrying an American flag and a rainbow OutVets banner.

“Today we made the statement that we’re honoring our veterans,” said Bryan Bishop, founder and CEO of OutVets. “Whether you’re straight, whether you’re black, whether you’re white, we have shed the same red blood.”

The event stands in opposition to the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade, whose private organizers have blocked gay groups from marching for years. In a controversial decision upheld in 1995 by the Supreme Court, the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council refused to allow Boston’s Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group to take part in the festivities, claiming that doing so would stand in opposition to the parade’s “family-friendly atmosphere.”

Former Mayor Thomas M. Menino, whose passing last month has been mourned throughout Boston, boycotted the St. Patrick’s Day parade throughout his term in office in a stand against the exclusion. Mayor Walsh followed this example, refusing to attend this past March’s parade after negotiations over whether to allow LGBT group MassEquality to march fell through.

Photo courtesy of Facebook/OutVets

Photo courtesy of OutVets / Facebook

MassEquality executive director KC Coredini hailed the permitting of OutVets to march this past Tuesday, stating, “The inclusion of the OutVets contingent in the Boston Veterans Day Parade is consistent with the values of Boston and our great Commonwealth. We hope that the organizers of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade will follow suit.”

Many attendees of the parade have also praised the decision, with Newton resident Wendy Matthews saying, “I think it’s wonderful. I think everybody should always be included.”

Medford veteran Brian O’Neill stated, “I think it’s great. I think they should just be marching as everybody else.”

Not everyone, however, was happy with the progressive decision. “They’re all God’s people so you know, if this is what it is, each of us have our own beliefs,” said Wanna Flores, Boston Army veteran.

In response, parade organizer Stephen Peers declared, “They’re veterans, period.”

OutVets spokesman Ryan McGill commended the treatment the group had received from the organizers of the parade, the Suffolk County Council of the American Legion. McGill said they were embraced with “open arms and strong support,” setting a positive precedent for future parades and veteran events to include LGBTQ groups.

“For the first time in our nation’s history, gay service members and veterans are playing on a more level playing field,” said Bishop in a statement. “And it is time we recognize those individuals who not only served under fire in a war or conflict but simultaneously fought a war of ideals with the very nation they were fighting, and in some cases dying, to protect.”

With another St. Patrick’s Day parade less than five months away, the LGBTQ community waits to see if it will again be excluded from the festivities, or whether the inclusive community of the Veterans Day parade will extend to Boston Irish.

Says Mayor Walsh, “Boston is an inclusive community where everyone deserves to live, work, and play. I commend OutVets and their efforts to ensure that the hard work of LGBTQ veterans are recognized and honored in our City.”

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Kate Rogers