The Southie St. Patrick’s Day Parade Battle Is Over … Or Is It?
By Matt McDonald | March 19, 2017, 9:28 EDT
Visions of angry protests and the potential loss of one-third of the budget led the chief organizer of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in South Boston to reverse course and invite a group of homosexual veterans to march with no strings attached, he said in an interview.
But the decision only affects this year’s parade, contrary to some media reports.
Chief parade organizer Timothy Duross was initially among a majority of members of the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council who voted not to allow an organization called OutVets to march with the rainbow flag during the parade, which is scheduled to begin later today, Sunday, March 19.
Contrary to some reports, Duross said the council never voted to ban OutVets outright.
“The vote was should we leave them alone, or should we condition their approval on changing their banner?” he said.
Why the objection to the rainbow flag?
“We felt that was a show of their sexuality,” Duross said. “… I wanted to try to restore the parade to the original intent. It is a Catholic parade, after all.”
The Catholic Church teaches that same-sex attraction is “gravely disordered” and that sex acts between members of the same sex with full consent of the will are serious sins.
When parade organizers allowed OutVets and another group called Boston Pride to march in 2015, the parade lost long-time Catholic participants, including Immaculate Heart of Mary, a high school in western Massachusetts that provided a colorful float and a marching band and had participated every year since 1946. That loss hurts, and parade organizers have been keen to try to get the school back.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians and the state council of the Knights of Columbus have also refused to march since then.
In February of this year the parade organizers thought they’d dodged the problem, because neither OutVets nor Boston Pride had applied to march. (Boston Pride, which two years ago without warning opened umbrellas with the rainbow flag on them after starting the march, never did apply, Duross said.)
The OutVets application eventually came in past the original deadline — although parade organizers routinely make exceptions. The Mexican Navy, for instance, happens to be in Boston this week, and organizers made last-minute arrangements to include a contingent.
So the council discussed OutVets at a meeting about two weeks ago and decided to try to get the group to drop the rainbow flag. The vote was widely reported as 9-4. Duross said he remembers it being closer than that, but he would not divulge the tally, saying it’s private council business.
When word got out, a firestorm erupted. Parade organizers got little support and an avalanche of criticism.
“It looked like we were gay-bashers and throwing out people because of their sexuality, and that just wasn’t it,” Duross said.
Many public figures, including the governor, the mayor, and South Boston’s state senator and state representative, said they wouldn’t march in the parade if OutVets weren’t allowed to march.
“The politicians dropped out, that was O.K.. And then then went after where it really hurts, in the wallet,” Duross said.
The parade costs about $60,000. Sponsors who had pledged about $20,000 said they would withdraw their contributions if the parade didn’t include OutVets, he said.
Duross said at one point he sought assistance from Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston.
“I asked the Catholic Church to help,” Duross said. “No comment. Wouldn’t comment on it. Didn’t want to get involved.”
A spokesman for the archbishop, Terrence Donilon, said Saturday he was unaware of any communication between Duross and O’Malley.
An explosive report on the web site of Mass Resistance, a pro-family group, based on interviews with several people connected to the parade, mentions specific threats of busloads of protesters coming into South Boston and possible violence if OutVets were not allowed to march.
Duross told New Boston Post that he did not receive specific reports of protesters but that he had heard rumors and could easily envision it happening. Other parade organizers could not be reached this weekend.
While trying to resolve the conflict Duross said he had an approximately 20-minute meeting with the commander of OutVets and a lawyer for the group at the Parker House Hotel in Boston. The other men were angry and would not budge from being allowed to display the rainbow flag, he said.
Duross said he subsequently learned the rainbow flag, while tied to sexuality, also symbolizes equality, and that that made him feel less uncomfortable with it.
“They’ve come a long way in terms of acceptance. Who am I to keep that battle going?” Duross said.
Finally, on Friday afternoon, March 10, Duross decided on his own authority to invite OutVets to march in the parade with no conditions.
“I made it to end it, because it needed to be ended,” he said. “It needed to be over with.”
Later that day a group met that included mostly members of the council who hadn’t attended the first meeting about OutVets. That group voted to invite OutVets. (The tally was reported as 11-0, though Duross wouldn’t give a specific vote count.) But Duross said that vote was meaningless. The commander of the council never called for a second meeting or a second vote, so it had no standing, Duross said; but more to the point, Duross had the power to invite OutVets all by himself and had already done it.
Duross feels caught in the middle between people who attack the parade for being unwelcoming to people who are attracted to members of the same sex and people who dissociate themselves from the parade for not upholding the teachings of the Catholic Church.
“It’s hard pleasing everybody, but ultimately that’s all the council was trying to do,” Duross said.
Duross, although not a veteran, started volunteering for the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council around 1990. He worked closely with John “Wacko” Hurley, the longtime commander of the council who ruled the parade and stood for years against the inclusion of pro-homosexuality groups in it, even taking a legal battle over it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. (The council won the court case in 1995 on First Amendment free-speech grounds, on a 9-0 vote.)
Hurley lessened his involvement with the parade a few years ago when infirmities prevented him from making meetings. He died in November 2015 at age 85.
His successor, Brian Mahoney, brokered the invitation to OutVets in 2015 and 2016. But Mahoney died this past November at age 66.
Duross, meanwhile, has been running the day-to-day operations of the parade. Among other things, he organizes the groups at the beginning of the parade route, and therefore he never sees the parade the way spectators do.
About three years ago the council voted to make him a member with the right to vote on parade-related matters only. But he said he never wanted to be involved in the kind of controversies that Hurley took on.
Still, as chief parade organizer, Duross is the one whose name is on the permit from the city of Boston, and he therefore has absolute power over who gets in and who stays out, just the way Hurley once did.
“Wacko used to tell me, ‘It’s lonely at the front. You’ll find out. You’ll find out’,” Duross said.
Organizers are expecting 128 groups to march in this year’s parade. That’s down from 147 last year and 151 the year before. Duross said he sees no connection between the drop and the controversy of the last couple of weeks, since the numbers fluctuate from year to year and since no one has pulled out who had already been accepted.
Some news reports have suggested that OutVets now has permanent status with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and will be allowed to march in the future as a matter of right.
That’s not the case, Duross said.
So what will happen next year?
“I don’t know. I’m hoping someone comes in and takes over for me,” Duross said. “I haven’t seen a parade in 27 years.”