Monday, March 16, 2015

The St. Patrick's Day Parade and Inclusivity...

At the 2014 St. Pat's Peace Parade, run by Veterans For Peace
Since 2011, the Smedley D. Butler Brigade of Veterans For Peace has had its own inclusive parade in honor of St. Patrick's Day. It is the "St. Patrick's Peace Parade". We at Veterans For Peace (VFP) decided to have this parade because the traditional "St. Patrick's Day Parade" in South Boston, run by the "Allied War Veterans Council" (AWVC), has historically not been inclusive. Specifically, it did not allow lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) groups to march. In addition, it has not let VFP march because (as one AWVC member put it) they did not want the word "veteran" associated with the word "peace".

For the past four years, our St. Patrick's Peace Parade has followed the St. Patrick's Day Parade. We have been asked to be a mile behind, and we came after the street sweepers in 2011, 2012, and 2013. In 2014, the City of Boston decided that there would not be street sweepers between us. What did the AWVC do? They put "ceremonial street sweepers" at the end of their parade! (Petty, but I have to admit, pretty funny actually.) The wait in between parades has meant that we have had to stand in the rain (2011 -- I missed that one), the heat (2012), and the cold (2013, 2014). The wait is always frustrating. In 2012, we had to wait for hours. It was very hot, and some Peace Parade marchers got dehydrated/exhausted and left before we even got started. (That year, the excessive wait was because the AWVC parade had more marching units than they had originally stated.) In any case, by the time we march, much (most) of the viewing crowd has dispersed. Relatively few see our messages of peace and inclusivity, compared to the numbers who watch the first parade.

This year, in 2015, VFP put in a request to march at noon. We put in our request as soon as we possibly could, and before anyone else could put in a request. The result? Even after repeated attempts at contact, the City of Boston ignored the request. With the ACLU, we decided to sue; and because of the delays in the decision, we ultimately decided to cancel the 2015 St. Patrick's Peace Parade. You can read about this here.

A couple of days before the parade, a press release came out stating that Boston Pride would be marching in the AWVC's St. Patrick’s Day Parade in South Boston. I was quite surprised! As I said in a recent Rainbow Times article, "It’s an important step toward a more inclusive parade, so it was definitely an exciting development and something to celebrate." But I was also sad that Veterans For Peace continues to be excluded from the parade.

Veterans For Peace has worked with Boston Pride for a few years, inviting them to march in our St. Patrick’s Peace Parade since they were not welcome to be in the “main” (AWVC) parade. VFP has marched in the Boston Pride parade in recent years, too, so we’ve had a pretty close working relationship and a mutual respect. I myself am a lesbian. I “came out” as a lesbian right around the time the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston tried to march in the AWVC's St. Patrick’s Day Parade, going all the way to the Supreme Court. Twenty years ago, in June of 1995, I marched in the Boston Pride parade for the first time. It was a big deal for me. I had been active duty in the US Navy from 1990 until 1994, during the early era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Marching in pubic as an out and proud lesbian was a big moment in my life. Instead of living with what felt like a scary secret, I could show my face and be who I was.

Here I am, twenty years later, and everyone who knows me knows that I’m a lesbian. I have been legally married to my wife for more than a decade. And strangely, the South Boston parade reminds me every year that in 21st century Boston, “peace” is a dirtier word than “queer”. I am not welcome to march in the South Boston parade as a member of Veterans For Peace, though I could have marched with Boston Pride if I had so chosen. I don’t know the nature of Boston Pride’s negotiations with the AWVC. Boston Pride invited other LGBTQ organizations to march with them, which is good. As I said in the Rainbow Times article, "Solidarity is very important when doing social justice work. Veterans For Peace was always very clear that we would refuse to march in the 'main' parade unless the LGBTQ community was invited to march as well."

When I went to my first VFP meeting years ago, I was skeptical because the few veterans’ groups I’d ever looked into seemed homophobic. To my surprise and delight, VFP understood that social justice issues intersect, and they were clearly very supportive of full LGBTQ inclusion and rights. Please understand that most members of VFP are heterosexual men. So as a lesbian, I found this moving. It is part of the reason I stayed around and became active with VFP.

As I said in the recent Rainbow Times article, I am happy that Boston Pride marched this year. I trust that they "will work for the inclusion of other LGBTQ groups in the parade, and that they will speak out for VFP to be included as well. I sincerely doubt that OUTVETS and Boston Pride would be marching in the South Boston parade had it not been for the efforts of VFP. I hope that Boston Pride will remember to stand with others who are being left out, still. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, 'Until all are free, none are free.' Or, put another way, 'nobody wins unless everybody wins'. I believe that."

Marcher in 2014 St. Pat's Peace Parade, Religious Division.
In the end, I fail to understand why the militaristic AWVC is the group in charge of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the first place. Why should such a small group make the decisions about inclusion for a parade that the City of Boston spends a few hundred thousand dollars to make happen? And as a minister, I fail to understand why St. Patrick has come to be celebrated in such a militaristic way. In the words of St. Patrick, “Killing cannot be with Christ”.

Boston Pride says that they will work to get other groups, including VFP, to be included in the 2016 St. Patrick's Day Parade (the "main" parade). In this Boston Globe article, it is stated that Boston Mayor Marty Walsh also wants VFP to be in the parade next year. Let us hope so. We just want our messages of peace to be included. Whether or not the AWVC likes it, many veterans are "associated" with working for peace.