Standing on the Side of Love at the St. Patrick’s Peace Parade in South Boston
Many Unitarian Universalists in Massachusetts and around the country have been following the news of the traditional St. Patrick’s Day Parade in South Boston and its various exclusions. The traditional St. Patrick’s Day Parade (organized by the Allied War Veterans Council) excludes LGBTQ groups from marching openly. The parade’s organizers state that in addition to celebrating St. Patrick and Irish heritage, their parade is meant to honor veterans. In spite of this, and notwithstanding the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, the organizers would not allow a group of LGBT veterans to march openly. The parade organizers have also excluded Veterans For Peace from marching in their parade “for associating the word ‘veteran’ with the word ‘peace’,” in spite of their military service and in spite of St. Patrick’s own words: “Killing cannot be with Christ.” These exclusions hurt me to my core since I am a US Navy veteran, a member of Veterans For Peace, and a lesbian.
In response to these exclusions, the local Boston chapter of Veterans For Peace (the Smedley D. Butler Brigade of VFP) worked in solidarity with local LGBTQ organizations and progressive activists to create an alternative and inclusive parade: the St. Patrick’s Peace Parade. This parade, known affectionately as the “second parade”, follows the traditional St. Patrick’s Day Parade along the same route. In past years, street sweepers and more than a mile of distance separated the two parades, but this year – on March 16, 2014 – for the first time the City of Boston did not put street sweepers between the parades, and the distance between the two parades was shortened. This meant that more onlookers than ever saw the messages of love, peace, and inclusion from the St. Patrick’s Peace Parade.
In addition to Veterans For Peace and lots of LGBTQ groups, there were many wonderful people and worthy organizations witnessing for environmental, social, and economic justice and peace. The “second parade” included a “Religious Division”, with Unitarian Universalists well represented. Many Unitarian Universalist participants marched with banners and signs from their own congregations as well as rainbow flags and messages of full support for LGBTQ inclusion and equality, and many more marched behind a large Standing on the Side of Love banner. Together, we indeed harnessed love’s power to end bigotry and oppression!
One of the central St. Patrick’s Peace Parade organizers was Pat Scanlon, the Coordinator of the local Boston chapter of Veterans For Peace, a Unitarian Universalist himself (a member of North Parish in North Andover). The Arlington Street Church in Boston played a special role, too, in providing rent-free space for peace parade organizational meetings. I’m so pleased that my own congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Andover, participated with enthusiasm. Other UU congregations that stood on the side of love, represented by parishioners and/or their ministers, were Community Church of Boston; First Church in Boston; First Parish Church, Billerica; First Unitarian Society, Newton; Harvard Unitarian Universalist Church; Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead; Unitarian Universalist Church of Wakefield; and Unitarian Universalist Church of Weymouth. Mid-route, some parade-watchers from South Church, UU, Portsmouth, NH joined in with us! In addition to UUs standing on the side of love, other faith groups were a part of the parade, including organizations and congregations from the Catholic, Jewish, United Church of Christ, Quaker (Religious Society of Friends) traditions and more.
It was a big step in the right direction that there were no street sweepers between parades this year, and less distance between the two parades than ever. How wonderful that more parade watchers than ever saw the “second parade” and its messages! But we will continue to stand on the side of love with a second, alternative, inclusive St. Patrick’s Peace Parade until the day that there is one, unified, inclusive St. Patrick’s Day parade in Boston. Says Pat Scanlon, “Our Peace Parade is not going away until we have one welcoming inclusive parade for all without censorship.”