GSA members march in alternative parade

LGBTQ parade image by Caroline Fishkin
Photo by Caroline Fishkin

A long line of people wearing green marched down the roads of Boston on March 17 as part of South Boston’s 2013 St. Patrick’s Day Parade. About a mile behind them was another group of marchers holding rainbow and white dove flags. One of them read “Veterans for Peace,” and the other, “Stop the Hate” with a peace sign in place of the “O.”

In that crowd, BHS Gay Straight Alliance students marched in the alternate parade to promote equality and peace.

Traditionally, St. Patrick’s Day commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. In addition, it is a day to celebrate Irish heritage and culture.

However, certain groups were excluded in the main parade for being “irrelevant,” according to junior Gaby Herrera, a member of the GSA.

The opposition has been ongoing for decades. In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Hurley v. Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston that private organizations had the right to exclude any group.

As a result, the Allied War Veterans Council, which hosts the main parade, is allowed to ban LGBT groups from marching.

According to an editorial by The Boston Globe on March 15, 2013, many felt that the effort by gay rights groups to march “felt like a political gesture to hijack attention from an event devoted to veterans.”

Social studies teacher Kathryn Leslie, the GSA adviser, said that this exclusion is unreasonable.

“I think that if that St. Patrick didn’t support gay people, then St. Patrick wouldn’t have wanted hundreds of people getting drunk on a day celebrating him either,” said Leslie. “So I think that’s a little ridiculous.”

In response to this exclusion, another group, Veterans for Peace, holds a separate, smaller parade behind the main parade, starting a mile behind.

According to Leslie, this issue goes far beyond the LGBT being denied permission to march in the main parade by its organizers.

“I think a lot of people who are part of LGBT organizations are frustrated in part because a lot of people feel like times have changed,” Leslie said. “People in Boston and South Boston are really fine with gay people. It’s just the organizers in the parade; the rest of Boston is pretty LGBT friendly. What is it about this one parade that they still won’t allow LGBT groups to march? It just seems ridiculous and outdated.”

Senior Danny Rabkin said he agrees with Leslie.

“Many groups that are ‘irrelevant’ march every year, why should ours be any different?” Rabkin said. “We feel we have just as much a right to march as any other group. And why shouldn’t we feel that way?”

Leslie said that people outside of the LGBT community are also frustrated. Her Irish friends who identify as gay feel excluded.

“This is a holiday where they get to celebrate their heritage, but here is a parade that is saying you can’t be Irish and gay,” Leslie said. “So for them it’s really a punch in the guts that they can’t have a day of celebration, and they have to feel denied of a part in the celebration.”

“We want to leave a message of love and acceptance,” Rabkin said. “The general problem is just that their reasoning for not letting us march is purely based on the fact that they don’t believe in our cause. The message we try to leave for any occasion is the same; we fight for gay rights. The fact that that’s exactly why they don’t let us march is the problem.”

Junior Gaby Herrera said she believes the goal of marching is to spread equality.

“There’s nothing wrong with being in the LGBT community, and it should not be left out,” Herrera said.

Leslie said that the parade should be an inclusive occasion.

“The purpose of the march is to take back the regular parade in some way and show that St. Patrick’s isn’t about being exclusive or hateful,” Leslie said. “This is a day of celebration.”

The main St. Patrick’s march planners declined to comment.

Andrea Kim can be contacted at [email protected]