Why Does Boston Have Two St. Patrick’s Day Parades? In A Word: Homophobia

As historically one of the largest Irish-American communities in the United States, Boston makes St. Patrick’s Day to be big business. The St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston is one of the largest in the country, and in Beantown, it doubles as the anniversary of Evacuation Day – the day that the British troops were run out of Boston on March 17, 1776.

It’s an exciting day for people across the Greater Boston region and Massachusetts – except for its LGBT citizens, apparently. Because even in the first state to gain marriage equality, there’s still discrimination, and one is in the city’s annual parade.

According to an editorial about the parade published in the University of Massachusetts’s Daily Collegian, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade has denied queer groups entry to the parade since they first petitioned in 1992. At that time, it was a group called GLIB – the Irish American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston. Though the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is often seen as a city event, because it has been organized by a private organization – The Allied War Veterans Council (AWVC) – the organization doesn’t have to abide by Massachusetts or Boston government’s standards about discrimination.

Similar to what happened with the Boy Scouts of America a few years later, this “right” was decided by a 1995 case, Hurley v. Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, that made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Daily Collegian writer Allie Connell writes:

The public accommodations law prohibits “any distinction, discrimination or restriction on account of… sexual orientation… relative to the admission of any person to, or treatment in any place of public accommodation, resort or amusement.” This law remained the lynchpin in both the state and Supreme Court trials because the parade was designated a public event. However, in the 1995 Hurley v. GLIB Supreme Court ruling, the parade was designated a private event, run by a private organization that had the First Amendment right promote only the messages they wanted. Parades are a form of expression in the sense that they are marchers who are making a shared point. Though not all members of the parade might agree with the AWVC on its stance towards LGBT participation in the community, they are armed with the First Amendment right to take that stance with their parade.

As such, since the city can’t do much to regulate who AWVC does and doesn’t allow in their parade, pro-LGBT Bostonians have found their own solution: organize another parade that does allow those groups in it. The Veterans for Peace organized the “St. Patrick’s Day Peace Parade” after they, too, were denied the right to march in the official parade. The 2013 Peace Parade will be the third annual event organized by the group, who have welcomed LGBT groups with open arms. In 2012, according to a notice posted in January on Occupy Boston, they had nearly 2,000 people, including “two bands, bag pipers, drummers, a Duck Boat, two trollies etc.” The Peace Parade is specifically designed to “end the last vestige of institutionalized exclusion, prejudice, bigotry, and homophobia and make this parade inclusive and welcoming to all and bring the message of peace to South Boston on St. Patrick’s Day.”

An article from last year in the Boston Phoenix called “St. Patrick’s Day v. Gays” also discusses some protests from LGBT groups and supporters that occurred leading up to and during the previous parade. “Near the Broadway MBTA stop, a group of men were waving rainbow banners. Around the corner, a man wearing a pink wig was holding a sign that said ‘Transgender Takeover.’” [Ed note: gendering occurred in context of original printing and may not be accurate.] They note that as South Boston becomes a more popular neighborhood with gay male couples, the parade’s anti-gay standards – they have since denied requests to participate from other, even-higher-profile LGBT groups like MassEquality and Join the Impact – seem more and more out of place, and protests should be even more expected.

One question that doesn’t seem to have been addressed here is the Why?. Why does the AWVC feels the need to discriminate against LGBT groups? Why do they feel that they’re inappropriate for the parade? A commenter on the Phoenix piece writes that “St. Patrick’s Day is Catholic holiday. Catholicism is morally opposed to homosexuality, so it wouldn’t make sense to include a homosexual advocacy group in the parade.” This rings a bit hollow, though, for a holiday that has taken up the kind of cultural clout in the United States that St. Patrick’s Day has, particularly among Irish-Americans – not all of whom are practicing Catholics, even if many are at least somewhat culturally Catholic. And in Boston, as explained above, the parade celebrates two holidays. Evacuation Day has nothing to do with ethnicity or faith, and so any celebrations of it should ideally be open to all Bostonians.

Yet, until things change, Bostonians can do their best to let the organizers of the official St. Patrick’s Day Parade know how much their exclusion is no longer representative of the ideals of the city, with the aforementioned protests and the St. Patrick’s Day Peace Parade. As Connell writes, “By simply seeing a second parade, which has gained participants over the past two years, follow the first parade brings into question the reason why two parades are needed at all. It is then up to the public and those who support LGBT groups to promote the peace parade rather than the AWVC’s. We, as a country, cannot attack private groups for holding certain beliefs but instead we must rally behind groups that help eliminate bigotry and exclusion.”

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Rose is a Michigander currently living in Boston, where she is working on her master's degree in musicology. Classical music, history, 1960s rock bands, cartoons, old movies and the Detroit Tigers are just a few of her favorite things. In her spare time she also writes music, collects too many books and cats, and inhales Diet Coke at alarming speeds. For more of her many opinions, you should follow her on Tumblr.

Rose has written 66 articles for us.

16 Comments

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    There was recently a big arrest made of 57 people from an Allied Veterans group here in my city. Not sure if the 2 groups are related but it wouldn’t surprise me given the amount of filth involved in the case. Total slime balls.

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    UMass Amherst newspaper represent!

    But yeah, Boston can have kind of a institutionalized discriminatory underbelly that a lot of people don’t know about. And I don’t just mean homophobia…

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    It’s such a thinly-veiled justification of cultural prejudice to claim that the holiday’s Catholic history has anything to do with the parade’s exclusivity, especially because eeeevery other aspect of St. Patrick’s Day has been secularized. St. Patrick’s Day as I’ve experienced it is far from a church service. Lemme pull out the good old verse from Isaiah 5:11 – “Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, [that] they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, [till] wine inflame them!”

    As for me, I’ll be shotgunning my green beers over at the peace parade, kids!

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    What even. On the one hand I’m super happy that the Peace Parade exists, on the other I’m really upset that there’s a need for it to exist at all. So, I’ll call it even and ignore the rest of the homophobia, because yay Boston people!

    Also, thanks for this piece, Rose. I lived near Boston for years and never knew about this thing.

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    Oh hai Boston, did you know that in Dublin LGBTQ groups march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade every year? Y’know, I think all kinds of Irish people in Ireland know how to celebrate an Irish holiday best, ie.
    BE INCLUSIVE YOU EEJITS.

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    As a member of Chapter 9, Veterans For peace, Smedley Butler Bde, I just want you all to know we were offered a place in the “official” parade last year, to which we believed meant everyone who marches with us; this was not the case. The AWVC refused participation of the GLBT community. We immediately refused their offer to participate as VFP, simple answer, we don’t turn our backs on our friends and allies. This year, we expect 4000+ to march in the Veterans For Peace People’s Parade for Peace, a very large contingent will in the GLBT contingent, (there are 8 contingents for various participants).
    In Solidarity with all people, from VFP, Boston,

    Bob Funke
    Chapter 9 VFP
    Executive Committee Member

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    St. Patrick’s Day is awful: It’s an excuse for the entire city to act like a shitfaced, ill-mannered, broken-down townie from Charlestown… The kind that regularly yell “faggot” at me and my friends when we’re in a bar or walking down the street.

    They can keep their horrid parade. There’s a lesbian takeover this weekend and a gay-oriented St. Paddy’s party, so pppffffbbbtt!

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    Growing up in Southie, I’ve only ever known one parade. I’m a little put off to find there’s been another one to parade hop to. Though, to be honest I probably wouldn’t go. I love my super selective Irish Catholic people. It’s like a secret club with shamrocks, beer, and judgement. I may be going to hell in their eyes, but they know damn well I’ll see them all there

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