Amid much controversy the annual St. Patrick’s/Evacuation Day Parade went forward on Sunday with revelers lining the streets and for those in attendance, at least while the procession lasted, the usual sense of mirth hung in the air.
With the event now in the rearview, perhaps we have time for reflection about the how poorly the last several weeks have been handled and ask ourselves, have we learned anything from all the foolishness, name calling and exchanges of incrimination?
There is plenty of blame to go around both on the part of Mass Equality and on the Allied War Veteran’s Council and both are guilty of behaving badly. However from all the back and forth some strands of truth emerged that need to form the basis of the discussion going forward.
First we have to be honest and the main reasons the AWVC and their apologists cite as to why gay groups shouldn’t be allowed to march in the parade is
pretty thin. The first is usually “this is a family event.” It’s clear that if this were the case the creation of “family zones” would never have been necessary. Reckless consumption of alcohol, fights, open containers and public intoxication mark the day. I know not everybody partakes in this manner but these are dominant aspects of every parade and are not something most of us would consider family oriented.
The second reason is usually, “this parade is about Irish heritage.” This is true, sort of. There is a sea of green, lots of catholic marching bands, a float with Saint Patrick and numerous bagpipe companies to be sure. But what’s Irish about Darth Vader and the Storm Troopers or the Shen Yun Chinese dancers or any number of other floats that participate in the parade? There’s nothing wrong with these participants and I’m happy to see them marching down the street but they demonstrate that “being Irish” is not a prerequisite for participation.
We have to also recognize that the parade isn’t just a St. Patrick’s Day parade but also commemorates Evacuation Day, which is a significant part of our local history and imbues the day with an appreciation of our veterans as well. Veterans organize the parade and march in the parade, as do historical re-enactors dressed as Minute Men and ROTC groups. It’s not clear to me why a gay veterans group could not march. Could a gay Irish group march? Coulda group comprised of gay, Irish veterans? It would seem that any of the above would be germane to the spirit of the parade.
Gay groups have been allowed to March in St. Patrick’s Day parades in Chicago and, of all places, in Dublin. Why not Boston? Wacko Hurley stated
it plainly in a recent Boston Herald interview. Gay groups cannot march in the Boston parade because, “I said so.” I do not know Mr. Hurley and therefore refrain from calling him a bigot (unlike many others who also do not know him but unfairly presume to do so). I do object however to Mr. Hurley and other members of the AWVC playing the part of a self proclaimed
moral arbiters on this subject and unlike others who have written to Caught in Southie and tried to glorify the AWVC “standing their ground” would ask that the parade organizers put their egos aside and do what’s best for the parade. Stubbornness in defense of a bad cause is not a virtue and
failing to change along a changing world results in obsolescence and eventually extinction.
Coming out of the closet is a terribly difficult thing for many gay men and women. And the stipulation that if a gay group wanted to march they had to effectively go back into the closet and hide that part of their identity should have been recognized as grossly insulting and a non-starter as a
negotiating position. The AWVC has every right to be selective of the gay groups it lets into the parade, it can ban chaps and leather whips if
that’s what it (incorrectly) imagines a gay group would try to import into the parade. But most of all it needs to recognize that things have reached a tipping point where the real price of exclusion far exceeds any hypothetical damage they think might result from inclusion.
Civic leaders boycotting the parade, sponsors pulling out at the last minute, negative national headlines, the endless, mind numbing stupidity of comments to be found all over the internet in support of both sides of the issue all led to a particularly joyless atmosphere surrounding the run up to parade day with feelings of anticipation largely being replaced by a desire to just have it done with already. The parade is supposed to be a celebration for an entire community and this year’s controversy sapped it of much of that
aura. We need to recapture those positive feelings. The parade needs to again be something we look forward to and not dread. That starts by letting it be a great day for the Irish and for everyone else as well.
Sean P. McNeill