As a freshman at Northeastern, this year was my first time attending Boston’s famous Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. Having already attended the Red Sox Parade in November, I had a basic idea of what to expect from a Boston event that attracts a variety of people to a small area: lots of shouting, partying and colorful outfits. I certainly wasn’t let down in those regards, nor was I prevented from taking part in the quintessential experience of re-boarding the T with the rest of Boston after the parade was over – on the upside, there were so many people that I was able to ride the train for free.
It’s impossible to articulate the high-energy experience of attending the parade without also touching on the amount of buzz that surrounded it this year. Controversy arose when a group of gay military veterans was prevented from marching in the parade by the Allied War Veterans Council, the event’s sponsor. Mayor Marty Walsh’s attempts to negotiate with the council and allow the group to take part in the parade succeeded on all grounds but one – the prospective marchers’ banner, which read LGBTQ. MassEquality, speaking on behalf of the veterans, said that preventing the group from advertising their sexual orientation was essentially denying them the ability to express their identity; however, the Veterans Council refused to allow the group to carry a sign proudly displaying their sexual orientation.
Ultimately, Walsh was unable to facilitate an agreement between the council and MassEquality, which resulted in the Boston Beer Company – which brews Sam Adams – pulling their sponsorship of the parade and Walsh himself refusing to participate in the event, which took place on March 16. A similar situation was echoed in the New York parade, which Mayor Bill de Blasio pulled out of in protest for marchers not being allowed to identify themselves as LGBT. Heineken also withdrew its sponsorship of the New York parade, following in the footsteps of Sam Adams in Boston, which pulled out after bars like Club Café threatened to stop serving their products.
A group espousing support of diversity did march in the Boston parade. Although their sign pictured a rainbow and they passed out multicolored necklaces en route, the group did not advertise their sexual orientation specifically and so were allowed to take part in the event. Furthermore, the Saint Patrick’s Day breakfast that took place earlier in the day showcased the progress the city has made in recent years. Haitian-American State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry acted as the first nonwhite, non-male M.C. of the event, which took place at the Boston Convention Center. The New York Times summed it up well when they said that the breakfast showcased the “new” multicultural Boston, while the subsequent parade served as a reminder that the older, more traditional Boston still exists.
It was clear from attending the event that the buzz surrounding the parade, as well as Walsh’s and Sam Adams’ withdrawal, did not deter the traditional crowds from traveling to Southie to watch one of the largest Saint Patrick’s Day events in the country. The parade was as crazy, colorful, and exciting as ever, but disagreement between the city’s mayor and the parade coordinator generates confusion over where Boston currently stands in the human rights debate. LGBT advocacy groups who participated in the Veterans for Peace Parade that took place in South Boston after the larger parade, expressed their hope and belief that the situation would improve by next March, and that future parades, while just as energy-filled, would be accepting of everyone’s individual identity.