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For first time, South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade welcomes LGBT groups

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(Read caption) FILE PHOTO- In this Nov. 11, 2014 photo, retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Eric Bullen, of Westborough, Mass., left, holds an American flag as U.S. Army veteran Ian Ryan, of Dennis, Mass., front right, rolls up an OutVets banner after marching with a group representing LGBT military veterans in a Veterans Day parade in Boston. The organizers of Boston's annual St. Patrick's Day parade voted to allow the group of gay veterans along with a second gay group, Boston Pride, to march in the parade scheduled to step off on, March 15.

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For the first time in its 115-year history, South Boston's St. Patrick's Day parade will include groups representing the LGBT community. 

OUTVETS and Boston Pride will march in the two-mile parade, which celebrates St. Patrick's Day and Evacuation Day, the anniversary of the departure of British troops from Boston in 1776. The Allied War Veterans Council, who organizes the parade, accepted the application from OUTVETS, an organization for gay, lesbian, and transgender veterans and service members. On Friday, Boston Pride was invited to participate in the parade as well.

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Nearly all of the religiously affiliated groups who usually participate in the parade will march as planned. But two Catholic groups groups have withdrawn.

The Massachusetts chapter of the Knights of Columbus cited what they characterized as politicization of the event as their reason for not participating this year. 

“We deeply regret that some have decided to use this occasion to further the narrow objectives of certain special interests, which has subjected this occasion to undeserved division and controversy,” the group’s statement read.

Last month, the Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Harvard, Mass., withdrew from the parade because OUTVETS had been invited to march, according to Irish Live. The Catholic Action League, requested that the Allied War Veterans Council rename the parade.

“Call it the Evacuation Day Parade. Call it the South Boston Irish Pride Festival," Catholic Action League Executive Director C.J. Doyle wrote on the group's website. "Call it whatever you want, but don't debase the name of Saint Patrick by associating it with the tawdry circus that will take place on Broadway [Street] tomorrow."

In 1995, the Allied War Veterans Council petitioned the Supreme Court and won its right to uphold its ban on having LGBT groups march in the parade by claiming it violated Catholic religious doctrine, according to the BBC. The court ruled that forcing any specific group's participation was a violation of free speech rights, according to the report. 

Since then Boston's mayors have all boycotted the event, protesting the ban on the gay community, but this year Mayor Marty Walsh will march.

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“While we recognize there is still much work to be done to protect the rights of the LGBT community both here and around the world, and to ensure everyone’s rights to express themselves and to celebrate, we are aware of how symbolically important it is for members of our community to be proudly out among their friends and neighbors as a part of this historic parade,” said Sylvain Bruni, president of Boston Pride, in a statement.

“I’m thrilled that the St. Patrick’s Day parade is inclusive this year, and the addition of Boston Pride to the list of participants reflects the values of the South Boston neighborhood,” said Mayor Walsh, according to the statement. “With this year’s parade, Boston is putting years of controversy behind us.”