Editors' Note: Guest blogger Kara Suffredini is the Executive Director of MassEquality. She is a seasoned LGBT movement veteran and has extensive background advancing laws that promote justice and fairness.
So much has changed in Massachusetts since the early 1990s when the hot-button LGBT issue was whether or not organizers of the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade would permit openly LGBT people to march.
Much of this change is evident in South Boston, where the parade is held.
Nineteen years ago, when members of the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston (GLIB) marched in the 1992 parade (thanks to permission granted via court order after parade organizers turned them down), Southie residents spit on the marchers and doused them with beer; many of them wore sweatshirts with the slogan "90 Years Without the Queers: South Boston Parade" across the front as they did so. And anti-gay sentiment was so intense that sharpshooters from the Boston Police Department were deployed on rooftops along the route to protect those marching behind the GLIB banner.
Today, South Boston is home to hundreds of LGBT people, families, and businesses, including Bay Windows, the region's longest-serving LGBT newspaper. Meanwhile, the LGBT community has moved on to other battles: winning the right to marry, ensuring protections for the transgender community, and flexing its political muscle by consistently electing a pro-LGBT supermajority in the Massachusetts Legislature.
But here's what hasn't changed: openly LGBT people still can't march in the St. Patrick's Day Parade.
This year, a second parade, called the South Boston St. Patrick's Day Peace Parade organized by Veterans for Peace (who were rejected from participating in the original parade on the grounds that the group is too political) will be permitted to march a mile behind the first parade. At least one openly LGBT group will be participating.
You won't find MassEquality there. Although we appreciate that there will be a parade that is inclusive of openly LGBT people, MassEquality's mission is and has always been to ensure full inclusion of LGBT people in all of the Commonwealth's civic, cultural, and political celebrations. That includes the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade. We don't want a separate parade. We are a valuable part of the Commonwealth's social, cultural and political fabric, and we want to celebrate in the same parade as everyone else.
Yes, we know that LGBT people already participate in the St. Patrick's Day Parade, though it's done with a wink and a nod. (How else to describe the spectacle a few years ago of a Kelly green Duck Boat full of, um, sporty gals in football jerseys and baseball caps?) But ending our second-class citizenship requires us to educate, advocate, and agitate for full participation.
This isn't just a political disagreement. It's personal. Given my Southie roots (my Irish-American mother was born and raised there), I find it deeply hurtful that I'm not allowed to participate in the parade as my whole self: proudly Irish, Catholic, and, yes, proudly queer.
MassEquality applied to march this year, but was told that we had missed the application deadline. We'll apply next year. Meanwhile, we'll be working to ensure that every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender person in Massachusetts has equal rights and opportunities from cradle to grave, from the State House to the streets of Southie, from politics to parades. That is what full equality looks like and that is the work left to be done to achieve it.