First time in history: Gay veterans to march in Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade

Retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Eric Bullen, of Westborough, Mass., left, holds an American flag as U.S. Army veteran Ian Ryan, of Dennis, Mass., front right, rolls up an OutVets banner after marching with a group representing LGBT military veterans in a Veterans Day parade in Boston on Nov. 11, 2014. Steven Senne, AP

Retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Eric Bullen, of Westborough, Mass., left, holds an American flag as U.S. Army veteran Ian Ryan, of Dennis, Mass., front right, rolls up an OutVets banner after marching with a group representing LGBT military veterans in a Veterans Day parade in Boston on Nov. 11, 2014.Steven Senne, AP

Retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Eric Bullen, of Westborough, Mass., left, holds an American flag as U.S. Army veteran Ian Ryan, of Dennis, Mass., front right, rolls up an OutVets banner after marching with a group representing LGBT military veterans in a Veterans Day parade in Boston on Nov. 11, 2014.

BOSTON — For the first time in its history, the sponsors of Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade will allow a group representing the gay community to participate, drawing cheers from Mayor Martin Walsh, who boycotted the event last year over the exclusion.

The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, which has long resisted the inclusion of gay groups and won a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1995 upholding their right to ban them from the annual parade that draws hundreds of thousands of spectators, voted 5-4 on Monday night to allow the group OutVets to march in the parade scheduled for March 15.

They will be allowed to carry a blue banner with five white stars representing the branches of the military and six vertical rainbow stripes. The group represents lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender veterans and participated in the city’s Veterans Day parade last month.

“Mayor Walsh has been advocating for an inclusive parade for quite some time,” spokeswoman Kate Norton said in a statement Tuesday. “We’re thrilled to hear that the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council has decided to make the 2015 parade an inclusive event.”

OutVets is being allowed to participate because of their members’ military service, and sexual orientation was irrelevant in the vote, said Brian Mahoney, commander of the veterans council. The parade is meant to honor veterans and Irish-American heritage, and OutVets met the criteria, he said.

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“It was a group of vets who wanted to march and we said ‘Yeah,’ ” he said Tuesday.

Bryan Bishop, OutVets founder and a 20-year U.S. Air Force veteran, said he was “ecstatic” with the vote and agreed that the decision was based primarily on veteran status.

“We’re marching as veterans who happen to be gay,” said Bishop, who works as chief of staff in Boston’s Veterans Services agency. “We honor the sacrifices of LGBT veterans and their families and the sacrifices all veterans.”

Parade organizers have long resisted the inclusion of gay groups, and some members of the council continue to hold out.

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