They will march: Bishop reflects on OUTVETS parade controversy

This story was originally published in the Somerville Journal. 

Late at night on March 7, founder of OutVets and Somerville’s Commissioner of Veterans’ Services Bryan Bishop received a call.

The Allied War Veterans Council told Bishop his organization would be excluded from this year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston, even though the organization, which honors LGBTQ veterans and active-service members, marched the last two years.

In a 9-4 vote, the council denied their participation, and didn’t give Bishop a reason for the exclusion. After hanging up the phone, Bishop called the Boston Globe and told them what happened.

By midnight, he said, everything went crazy.

“I was on the phone all night long talking to people,” he remembers. “I sent an email…and called [Boston Mayor Marty Walsh]. When he got to the office on Wednesday morning, all hell had broken loose.”

Later that evening, Bishop met with a representative from the council, who cited their “late” application for exclusion. However, said Bishop, there is no deadline on the application. When Bishop presented the application and asked to see the deadline, the representative came up empty-handed.

The real reason, he replied, is the rainbow in the logo, referring to the seven bars of color all OutVets members wear. Bishop immediately asked for another vote to include his organization, but the council refused.

Unfortunately, said Bishop, he almost expected something like this to happen.

After OutVets was founded in September 2014, on the third anniversary of the repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” ban, they applied to march in the 2015 parade.

The commander of the council at the time, Brian Mahoney, was an ally for the group, and kept the members of the council in line, said Bishop.

“They tried to say our logo was inappropriate and violated their code of conduct,” said Bishop. “How can just color violate your code of conduct? They said it represented sexuality, and at that point I almost fell out of the chair.”

In 2016, the group again marched, but was placed at the back of the parade. That day, remembers Bishop, was “hellish.” It was freezing, he said, and they had to wait three hours before beginning their two-hour and twenty-minute march.

“We swore we would not [march in the back] again,” said Bishop.

When Mahoney died in November 2016, Bishop knew their strongest advocate was gone.

But the group didn’t lose hope. When Bishop talked to media outlets throughout the area, people rallied behind the members.

On March 8, Mayor Walsh and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker both refused to march in the parade unless OutVets was allowed to march.

On Friday, March 10, Congressman Steven Lynch and Representative Nick Collins called a meeting of the council, asking them to change their decision.

In an 11-0 vote, it was decided OutVets would march in the parade, not just this year, but every year moving forward.

“OutVets now has a seat at the table for planning, and being apart of the parade forever,” said Bishop.

Now an estimated 30 members will march in this year’s parade, said Bishop.

Like all other veterans organizations, explained Bishop, OutVets simply has to fill out the first page of the application and state whether they will march or not.

The only good thing to come out of this experience, said Bishop, is the progress the parade is making, and the change that is about to come. The parade, he explained, needs to be more transparent and community-based.

“It’s going to give people in South Boston an opportunity to be apart of the parade, whereas before it was always done in secret,” he said.

Typically, he explained, groups have no idea where they’ll be in the parade line, and don’t find out until they arrive at the scene.

When organizing Somerville’s Memorial Day parade, said Bishop, groups know ahead of time where they will be standing and marching.

“We’re not only transparent,” said Bishop. “Everyone knows their order in the parade before they get to it. That’s usually how most parades are set up.”

More transparency in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, said Bishop, will move everything forward.

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