Several Massachusetts politicians announced Wednesday that they would boycott Boston’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade because parade organizers are refusing to let a group of LGBTQ veterans march.
OutVets has participated in the parade for the past two years, but on Tuesday, the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council voted 9-4 to keep the group out of this year’s parade. According to OutVets spokesperson Dee Dee Edmondson, the Council said that the rainbow on the group’s flag violates the parade’s code of conduct, which bans “the advertisement or display of one’s sexual orientation as a topic.”
“We were like, ‘Are you going to take away all the rainbows to the pot of gold that St. Patrick is gonna have?’” Edmondson said. “And they’re like, ‘No no, that’s fine. But we can’t have that with y’all.’”
OutVets refused to remove the rainbow.
“It’s like taking away your identity,” Edmondson said. “This is us, and if you don’t want us to be us, then we’re not going to compromise.”
The council did not reply to a VICE News request for comment.
The backlash to the parade organizers’ decision was immediate. The marshal, who had voted to include OutVets, resigned, according to the Boston Globe. A Massachusetts senator and two congressmen said they would boycott the parade unless the council changed its position. And both Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker denounced the decision.
“I will not tolerate discrimination in our city of any form,” Walsh said in a statement. “We are one Boston, which means we are a fully inclusive city. I will not be marching in the parade unless this is resolved. Anyone who values what our city stands for should do the same.”
Baker told the Globe: “The idea that we would restrict the opportunity for men and women who put on that uniform… and deny them an opportunity to march in the parade that’s about celebrating veterans doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Several parade sponsors and participants are siding with OutVets. Quincy, Massachusetts–based grocery store chain Stop & Shop said it is pulling its sponsorship and a local 11,000-member Teamsters union announced it will refuse to participate if the council doesn’t reverse its decision. Brewer Anheuser-Busch and hat manufacturer Boston Scally Co. are also reportedly rethinking their involvement.
A second vote on the issue is scheduled to take place on Friday, Edmondson said, though OutVets is not yet sure if they will march in the parade even if the parade council changes its official position.
The battle is the latest in decades of strained relationships between LGBTQ groups and organizers of the Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade. In 1993, the council refused to allow an Irish LGBTQ organization to join the parade; the resulting court case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the council could exclude the group from the parade, since it was a privately organized event.
In 2015, OutVets became the first LGBTQ organization allowed to participate in the parade since that ruling.