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Boston mayor again turns back on Southie parade

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jim Smith

BOSTON — Despite the scheduled presence of scores of New York City firefighters in this year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino will not be participating in the event. A spokesperson for Menino told the Echo Friday that the mayor has “tremendous respect” for the firefighters and other rescue personnel involved in the Sept. 11 tragedy, but that his position about marching in the parade remains unchanged from previous years.

As reported in the Echo last month, Menino has come under criticism from several prominent Irish-Americans for his refusal to march in the parade. “I have no idea why he does some of the things he does, and this is one of those decisions that I really don’t understand,” said Boston City Councilor James Kelly.

A spokesperson for the mayor said last month that Menino has never marched in the parade since he took office in 1993 because he believes that it excludes “a segment of our city’s population,” alluding to gays. The spokesperson said at that time that the mayor might reevaluate his position if new information about the parade came to his attention.

Parade organizers and others had hoped that the inclusion of many heroic New York City rescue personnel in this year’s parade, which will be held March 17, would bring Menino into the line of march.

“Tom Menino should be marching in this parade, but this isn’t about him,” said former mayor and U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Ray Flynn. “This is about the office of mayor, which clearly should be represented in the parade.”

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David Burke, a national director of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, said that Menino’s avoidance of the parade is an “insult and slap in the face” to Irish Americans and to the veterans who organize it.

The parade has been organized by the South Boston Allied War Veterans since 1947, when Mayor James Michael Curley first gave the group the authority to run the event. The parade brouhaha first erupted in 1992 when a group calling itself the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston applied to march in the parade. When the veterans denied the application, the group sought and received an order in Suffolk Superior Court compelling the veterans to include GLIB in the parade.

Three additional years of litigation engulfed the parade, culminating in the June 1995 unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which concluded that the veterans had a First Amendment right to exclude any “group imparting a message the organizers do not wish to convey.”

Kelly and many of his fellow South Bostonians bristle at Menino’s suggestion that the parade is anti-gay. “What the veterans don’t want are groups marching with banners proclaiming their sexual preferences,” Kelly said. “That’s not what this parade is about.”

Chester Darling, who successfully argued the veterans’ case before the U.S. Supreme Court, said that Menino should be more respectful of the veterans and the high court decision. “He’s marched in the gay rights parade, where people were prancing around half-naked, but he won’t march with the veterans and our American heroes,” he said. “I personally feel that he owes the veterans an apology.”

What puzzles some Irish-Americans about the mayor’s stance is that GLIB has been out of the public eye for nearly seven years. Unlike the situation in New York, where the gay group ILGO has been assertively seeking entry into that city’s parade each year, GLIB virtually disappeared after the Supreme Court decision in 1995.

“The mayor has really let this go on far too long,” Burke said. “He’s completely out of step with the people of South Boston and Irish-Americans when it comes to the parade.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced recently that Bloomberg intends to march “in every St. Patrick’s Day parade to which he has been invited.”

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