In Boston, Gay Groups Remain Closed Out Of St. Patrick's Day Parade

Organizers of the South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade say they won't be allowing a gay rights group to join their parade. But Boston Mayor Martin Walsh says he'll keep fighting for LGBT inclusion.

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Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says he's still hopeful for a deal allowing a gay group to march in South Boston's St. Patrick's Day Parade. Organizers say talks to include gay groups for the first time in two decades have fallen apart. Walsh, the son of Irish immigrants, is still trying to bring the sides together.

NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Gay rights activists called it historic that they were even talking to parade organizers. But now, chances for a deal are slipping.

PHIL WUSCHKE: The parade is actually closed. It's a done deal. We're done accepting applications.

SMITH: Parade organizer Phil Wuschke says there was talk of a compromise allowing the group MassEquality to march as long as the word gay wasn't on their T-shirts or signs. The focus, Wuschke says, has to be on St. Patrick Day.

WUSCHKE: It's a day of celebration not demonstration. And if they - well, they're not going to follow our rules.

CHUCK COLBERT: No one wants to feel they have to be back in the closet.

SMITH: That's Chuck Colbert who marched in the parade with a gay group in the early '90s, before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that parade organizers could exclude them. Now, Colbert says making gays hide who they are is an insult.

COLBERT: I remember a time when I was very closeted and that was very shaming. And so, to go back to that, to pretend you can't say who you are or wink-wink, nod-nod, just doesn't cut it anymore.

SMITH: The compromise has also drawn protest from some parade marchers.

BROTHER THOMAS DALTON: If they're in, we're out.

SMITH: Brother Thomas Dalton is principal of the Immaculate Heart of Mary School, whose marching band and float with a waving St. Patrick has become the unofficial symbol of the parade.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAGPIPE MUSIC AND CHEERING)

SMITH: Now, Dalton says he can't march with gay rights activists, regardless of whether they wear it on their sleeves.

DALTON: When they come in with a problem, you know, a sin and they say we are not sinners, this is what we're going to promote as a virtue, we don't want to have any part with that. You know, if they want to share their Irishness, that's fine. But they want to share their sinfulness. They want to promote it. How can we do that?

SMITH: But would-be marchers like Colbert say they want to express both their Irish pride and gay pride. And Colbert says the Boston Irish should understand.

COLBERT: You know, both groups have been the brunt of oppression and ostracism. So, I still go back to - when Irish eyes are smiling all the world is gay. And I would add - and straight and lesbian and transgender.

SMITH: In past years, gay activists have marched in their own shadow parade. MassEquality's Kara Coredini concedes that given other battles for gay rights, the parade fight doesn't really rank. But symbolically, she says it's huge.

KARA COREDINI: So just as parade for a long time has been a symbol of those challenges, it's really poised to be a symbol of the progress that were making and that neighborhoods and communities are really changing.

SMITH: But maybe not enough. There are lots of ways gay groups could march openly and honestly, as Coredini puts it. But it seems, even wearing a rainbow symbol, instead of the word gay, may have doomed the deal.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

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