Boston's popular St. Patrick's Day parade is all about veterans — but not all who've served in uniform will be allowed to march this weekend.
Parade organizers say new leadership of the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, which runs the annual event, marks the beginning of a new era of inclusion. The council drew furor nationwide for banning gay veterans from marching before relenting in 2014 and letting them participate.
But it has refused to accommodate Veterans for Peace, and the anti-war group won't be allowed to walk in Sunday's parade. Its applications to participate have been denied since 2011, despite support from Democratic Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Police Commissioner William Evans and sympathetic lawmakers.
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"No soldier is ever left behind. That's a message the Allied War Veterans Council didn't receive," Veterans for Peace coordinator Pat Scanlon said, asserting that all veterans ought to be honored for their service.
Organizers say the group failed to meet the code of conduct required to march because members have staged protests elsewhere against the U.S., and some have been detained.
"There's nothing wrong with that necessarily, but it doesn't fit with the parade," said David Falvey, elected last June as head of the Allied War Veterans Council.
Falvey insists he's not pro-war, and he's won praise from a group his coalition tried to block last year: OutVets, which represents LGBTQ veterans.
OutVets began marching four years ago, but was enmeshed in controversy anew in 2017 when parade organizers denied it access because of a rainbow in its logo. A public backlash prompted Falvey's council to reverse that decision.
This year, more than a dozen OutVets members will march along a route shortened because of heavy snowfall from recent storms, said group leader Bryan Bishop. "I really think David Falvey is making it right," he said.
Boston's parade barred gays for years, citing a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that private organizations can exclude certain groups if they represent a message contrary to the one the organizing group wishes to convey.
Falvey said OutVets was allowed to march because it represents a demographic like "a Jewish veteran group or a Puerto Rican veteran group" and is not a protest group like Veterans for Peace. He said he considers Outvets a group "we like to partner with."
Veterans for Peace is disappointed to be excluded again, Scanlon said.
Its members, he said, do positive things such as helping resettle Iraqi refugees and opposing efforts to privatize the Veterans Administration health care system — "not just running a parade for a few hours."