For twenty years, gay and lesbian Irish-Americans have wanted to march in Boston's St. Patrick's Day parade. And for twenty years, the parade has done everything in its power to keep them out.
But now that's all in the past. After two decades of exclusion, LGBT groups are finally welcome in Boston's parade. (New York's, on the other hand, still isn't quite there yet. Maybe next year.)
It's fair to ask why it matters whether gays and lesbians are allowed to march in a parade where they're not wanted. Don't they already have enough parades of their own?
It may seem trivial, but having access to cultural celebrations is a big deal. Not just for LGBTs, but for everyone who's ever been part of an unpopular group.
Remember, in the 1800s, Irish immigrants suffered intense discrimination. They were considered sub-human, denied jobs, and confined to ghettos. Americans at the time thought that Irish immigrants were outsiders, and could never be real American citizens.
That's why a simple parade is so important. When you have a whole country telling you that you're inferior, it can be life-changing to display your pride in your identity and your community. It's a chance to show the world that you're not ashamed of who you are -- in fact, you celebrate it.
For two decades, LGBT Irish-Americans have wanted to join that expression of pride. But parade organizers, such as John "Wacko" Hurley, didn't see them as a part of the St. Patrick's Day community. Hurley said, "They get a parade in June in town, so I don't know why they need to do this."
In other words, he saw gay and lesbian Irish-Americans only in terms a single defining characteristic -- their sexuality. To parade leaders, the gay and lesbian marchers weren't Irish; they were outsiders who didn't belong in their parade.
It's just like how Americans once saw Irish immigrants solely in terms of their national origin, and viewed them as outsiders who didn't belong in their country.
It's easy to define other people by what makes them different. That's how oppression happens: a group in charge decides that some other group is strange and inferior. They focus exclusively on the difference, and erase all of the other qualities that individuals in that group might have.
The parade's old exclusionary policy instilled shame in being an LGBT Irish-American. And instilling shame defeats the whole point of having a celebration of cultural pride.
The evolution of Boston's St. Patrick's Day parade isn't just about a five-mile march in blustery weather. It's about being free to celebrate your pride in every aspect of what makes you the person you are.