By Elizabeth Barber
BOSTON, March 16 Boston's Irish-American mayor
skipped the city's St. Patrick's Day parade on Sunday after
failing to hammer out a deal with organizers to allow a group of
gay and lesbian activists to march openly.
Mayor Marty Walsh had tried to negotiate a deal with
organizers, the conservative Allied War Veteran's Council, to
allow members of MassEquality, one of Massachusetts' largest gay
activist groups, to join the parade.
"So much of our Irish history has been shaped by the fight
against oppression," Walsh, the city's first Irish-American
mayor in 20 years, said in a statement.
"As mayor of the city of Boston, I have to do my best to
ensure that all Bostonians are free to participate fully in the
civic life of our city. Unfortunately, this year, the parties
were not able to come to an understanding that would have made
Despite Walsh's boycott, other prominent Democratic Boston
politicians, including Representative Stephen Lynch, marched in
the parade, which drew tens of thousands of spectators, some of
whom expressed disappointment at MassEquality's exclusion.
"It's supposed to be a time when everyone can come
together," said university student Jeyashri Sridhar, 18. "It's
sad that people can't participate because of who they are."
Organizers of St. Patrick's Day parades in New York and
Boston, among the most liberal-leaning cities in the United
States, have come under increasing criticism in recent years for
banning openly gay marchers.
Parade organizers argue that to do so would conflict with
their Roman Catholic heritage. The Catholic church contends that
homosexual activity is immoral.
While MassEquality did not participate, the parade was not
without gay marchers.
South Boston resident Randy Foster, along with his husband
Steve Martin, organized a diversity-themed float that sported
rainbow flags but no direct gay rights messages. Foster said the
flags represented the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the
rainbow in Irish lore, though he acknowledged the gay-rights
movement uses a rainbow flag.
"If there's a dual message to it, we're OK with it and so
are the parade organizers," said Foster, 48. "We made the point
of not making it a gay float. If we're going to have a message
of inclusion, it shouldn't be for one group."
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also plans to boycott his
city's parade, scheduled for Monday, in protest.
On Friday, two major beer companies, Sam Adams brewer Boston
Beer Co and Heineken dropped their sponsorship
of parades in Boston and New York, respectively, over the issue.
In Boston, Walsh had tried to reach a deal for
MassEquality's members to march openly, rather than without any
identification of their sexual orientation as required by parade
The invitation to MassEquality was subsequently rescinded by
the parade organizers, who said they had been "misled" about the
number of veterans in the gay and lesbian group.
MassEquality executive director Kara Coredini thanked Walsh
for his decision.
"No other group is asked to march without a banner and their
standard - not the police, firefighters or the Irish," Coredini
said. "A double standard is the status quo and does not
Massachusetts in 2003 became the first U.S. state to
legalize gay marriage. Attitudes on gay marriage have changed
markedly across the nation since then, with 17 states and the
District of Columbia now allowing same-sex couples to wed.