It's no surprise that the coming weekend's Saint Patrick's Day celebrations have become politically charged, given the extraordinary convergence of electoral events visiting South Boston (see "Southie's Last Stand," February 12). Even before the first joke has been cracked at the annual breakfast, controversy has exploded over the parade's continued exclusion of LGBT organizations.
Southie state representative Nick Collins, who is running in a special election for state Senate, plans to march in the parade as he always has (as has Jack Hart, whose Senate seat is at issue). His opponents, South Boston's Maureen Dahill and Dorchester state representative Linda Dorcena Forry, intend to boycott. Dahill has issued press releases and circulated petitions demanding the parade reverse its policy.
Congressman Steve Lynch, trying to thaw tensions with Democrats whose votes he needs in his own upcoming special election for US Senate, has privately asked parade organizers to consider allowing LGBT organizations in this year (still said to be under consideration as of this writing). And while he will have a contingent marching for him, Lynch himself will skip it for the first time, opting to participate in a Holyoke event that day instead.
There is nothing new about the dispute, which went all the way to the Supreme Court back in 1995. In fact, the whole thing has taken on a bizarre, anachronistic feel: every year, LGBT groups — most prominently MassEquality, whose sole founding goal of legalizing same-sex marriage was accomplished nearly a decade ago — submit their applications to parade sponsor Allied War Veterans Council (AWVC). And every year, long-past-relevant figures at the AWVC like John J. "Wacko" Hurley and Ray Flynn summarily reject them.
The ritual seems increasingly about a handful of grumpy old men, who no longer speak for their community. "The parade does not reflect the inclusive place that South Boston is now," Dahill says.
But it's still rare for elected officials — at least, the Irish-American ones — to boycott, as they surely would for an event that similarly excluded black or Jewish groups.
"QUARANTINE THE QUEERS"
The city has come so far, it's easy to forget how important, and dangerous, this battleground once was in the struggle for LGBT access and acceptance in Boston's social and political fabric.
But in the early 1990s, when court orders forced the AWVC to allow an LGBT group to participate in the parade, "spectators lobbed smoke bombs and beer cans," the Associated Press reported. "Other spectators, some holding children, screamed obscenities and waved signs with such slogans as 'AIDS cures gays' and 'Quarantine the queers.' "
Since the Supreme Court upheld the organizers' right to exclude LGBT groups 18 years ago, the parade has in fact quarantined the queers, albeit without the vicious signage. And pols have hidden behind AWVC's right to do so, to avoid answering the questions I attempted to put to Collins, Linehan, and Lynch last week: would you march in a parade that excludes black or Jewish groups, and if not, why is it different for homosexuals? (Lynch and Linehan spokespeople responded, but did not directly answer. The AWVC did not respond to my calls. Ed Flynn, son of the former mayor and this year's chief marshall, responded by email but would not directly address the LGBT exclusion.)
The honest answer — and the one they don't want to give — is that in this case, it's their friends, supporters, and voters on the side of the bigots.
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FOR THE INSIDE SCOOP ON SOUTHIE'S SAINT PATRICK'S DAY ESCAPADES, follow Bernstein's coverage at thePhoenix.com/talkingpolitics.