Southie parade inclusion issue is state Senate campaign opener

A clearer picture of the First Suffolk Senate field emerged this week while candidates staked out positions on a controversial topic that emerges nearly every year: The traditional St. Patrick’s Day parade through South Boston.

Four contenders for former state Sen. Jack Hart’s seat have turned in their nomination signatures, and barring any snafus, are expected to make the ballot: Democratic state Reps. Nick Collins and Linda Dorcena Forry, South Boston native Maureen Dahill, also a Democrat, and Republican Joseph Ureneck.

The Senate district in play includes Dorchester, Mattapan, South Boston and a portion of Hyde Park.

The primary is set for April 30 and the general election is scheduled for May 28. Those dates, along with the US Senate special election to replace John Kerry, have thrust the elections, the annual holiday breakfast, and a pair of parades into the spotlight. Two of the candidates – Dorcena Forry and Dahill – on Friday called for the traditional parade in South Boston to include gay and lesbian groups.

Dorcena Forry issued a statement saying that she will march on March 17 with supporters from the gay and lesbian community if the groups are included. Said Dahill, who has marched in a previous parade when she won a civic association award: “St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner and I think it’s time we move past what happened in the 90s.” Collins is expected to march in the traditional parade with gay and lesbian supporters while Ureneck said he would march in the traditional parade, calling the Supreme Court case “settled law.”

Dahill said she would not march if parade organizers did not include gay and lesbian groups. “It’s a really tough decision,” she said. “It’s such a huge part of any political campaign, especially if you’re from Southie. But I really have to go with my gut instincts. I feel I would be a hypocrite if I marched.”

Allowing gay and lesbian groups to march in the parade is an issue that has cropped up repeatedly in Boston politics after a 1995 Supreme Court ruling said that the parade’s organizers are allowed to choose the groups that can march. The Allied War Veterans Council puts together the annual parade.

“This is a perfect time to show how inclusive South Boston actually is,” said Dahill. “There are two sets of parades and why not include the gay and lesbian community in this parade?” she added, pointing to a separate parade organized by peace activists. She encouraged her fellow candidates and two South Boston politicians, Congressman Stephen Lynch and District 2 City Councillor Bill Linehan to join her call.

In her statement, Dorcena Forry, who was endorsed last month by MassEquality, a gay rights advocacy group, said, “I am pleased to join fellow candidate Maureen Dahill in calling upon parade organizers to accept the application of gay and lesbian groups to have an opportunity to march in this year’s Evacuation Day/St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston. For too long, our sisters and brothers and friends in the LGBT community have been told they are not welcome to join in the celebration.” Elected in 2005, Dorcena Forry, who is married to Reporter publisher and editor Bill Forry, said she has not participated in past parades because they didn’t include gay and lesbian groups.

Congressman Lynch’s US Senate campaign said he is maintaining that parade organizers are allowed to decide which groups can march. “Congressman Lynch’s positions don’t change based on the office he’s running for,” Lynch campaign spokesman Scott Ferson said in a Saturday statement. “He has consistently maintained that this is a First Amendment issue, and the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that private parade organizers have the right to decide which groups can march. Congressman Lynch’s support of the First Amendment doesn’t change simply because he is running for Senate or because some candidates for office want to play politics.”

Lynch, a South Boston Democrat who represents Dorchester’s coastal communities, will be marching this year in Holyoke’s St. Patrick’s Day parade and will not be at the traditional South Boston parade as he campaigns across the Bay State for former US Sen. John Kerry’s seat. The campaign added that they will have a “strong presence” in the South Boston parade.

Ferson noted that Lynch, who was elected to Congress in 2001, is a “strong supporter of equal rights” for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. His statement pointed to Lynch’s co-sponsorship of a bill repealing the federal anti-gay marriage law known as the Defense of Marriage Act and the congressman’s vote to repeal the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” legislation. “He voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment, supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act, and helped secure gay-marriage rights in Washington, DC,” Ferson said.