On Sunday, March 18th, I marched in the Peace Parade organized by Veterans for Peace in South Boston, directly following the St Patrick’s Day Parade organized by the Allied War Veterans Council (AWVC). This was the second edition of the Peace Parade, created in 2011 to protest the AWVC’s policy not to accept LBGT organizations and veterans’ organizations that advocate for peace.
This was the first time in a long time that I marched in a parade: typically, I’m on the organizing side, planning it, supervising its production or volunteering on the day of to direct traffic, avoid gaps and manage emergencies. And I have to say, marching in the Peace Parade triggered feelings that I had not experienced since marching in my first Pride Parade in Paris in 2000.
When organizing a Parade, you are focused on smoothing out the logistics, on ensuring participants have a great time, on dealing with last minute issues, and overall on enabling the best platform possible for our community to express itself and be visible.
When organizing a Parade, you don’t think about the message, about the why, about the actual meaning of marching.
At the Peace Parade, I felt the message, the why, the meaning of it all: we are being discriminated against, I am being discriminated against by the AWVC and the St Patrick’s Day Parade. Even here, in Boston, Massachusetts, some folks think that there are places where LGBT people should not be visible, should not exist, should not be allowed to express themselves. And these folks will fight to prevent LGBT people from being, literally, out to the world. Obviously, the emotional strain that results from this discrimination is not as grueling as being beaten up in other parts of the country, or being killed in other parts of the world. But still, you would think that, in 2012, in Boston, progress has been such that discrimination against the LGBT community would have disappeared a long time ago. It’s all the more surprising considering the amount of coverage, publicity and recognition this event gets.
Indeed, as we were preparing the LGBT contingent of the Peace Parade on D Street in South Boston, I couldn’t help but engage with passers-by, asking them whether they knew why we were marching in a separate parade on that day. I asked the same question during the parade, to people watching the event. Not a single person I talked to that day, out of probably 50 or so, knew that the St Patrick’s Day Parade refused to allow LGBT groups in its parade. Systematically though, I could see some awkward feeling through these people’s eyes: wait, I am supporting a parade that discriminates against my gay friends?
Along the parade route, our contingent, which included folks from Join The Impact Massachusetts, Boston Pride and multiple LGBT-friendly faith groups (such as Dignity Boston), was all but met with great cheers, thumbs up, lots of applause, and even a few mini-standing ovations. We saw people of all ages, all ethnic backgrounds, all genders, and all walks of life in fact, rooting for us and hailing our participation and our visibility on this day. We even saw a few gay couples dare hold hands when they saw the LGBT contingent pass by. And to me, this is what Boston Pride is about: providing visibility to our community so anyone, anyone, can be who they are, everywhere, every day of the year, even on St Patrick’s Day in South Boston.
Two small hostile encounters occurred. First, one woman in her mid-thirties, obviously somewhat intoxicated, got up from her seat at her window, ran down her stairs and came very close to us, shouting “wrong day, wrong day, this is the wrong day”… Had she been sober, I’d have loved to ask her: “wrong day for what? For being gay? Sorry honey, I’m gay 24/7, St Patrick’s Day or not…” As if LGBT people had to ask permission to be out on the street! The other incident involved a group of teenagers, also intoxicated, using two F words… without realizing that what they considered insults could be interpreted by us as propositions… But overall, these two incidents didn’t matter: a handful of ignorant individuals who didn’t represent the hundreds of Southie residents who cheered us up that afternoon.
I think I will remember the Peace Parade for a long time: it energized me to continue the fight for full equality, and impressively demonstrated how visibility is key to progress toward that goal.
Now, I keep wondering though, if Southie is so welcoming of the LGBT community, why is the St Patrick’s Day Parade and its organizing committee, the Allied War Veterans Council, bound on discriminating against me, against us?