By Ken MacLeod, WBZ-TVBy Ken MacLeod

BOSTON (CBS) – For the first time in 20 years, gay and lesbian veterans of the military will be marching openly in South Boston’s parade on St. Patrick’s Day.

“We’re in!” says a smiling Bryan Bishop. “We’re gonna march!”

Bishop heads OUTVETS — a relatively new support group for LGBT veterans – which will stroll down Broadway carrying a simple banner consisting of five white stars over a rainbow flag.

Monday night, the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council reversed its longstanding opposition to gay marchers – and approved OUTVET’S request by a narrow 5-4 margin.

“Their concern was basically that we were trying to drag gay pride into St. Patrick’s Day,” says Bishop. “That’s not going to happen.”

It was Bishop’s pitch that eventually overcame the Council’s longstanding beef – that a celebration of military service and Irish heritage shouldn’t share the street with gay pride.

“We are veterans,” says Bishop. “We’re veterans who happen to be gay. But we’re veterans who served this country and we deserve the dignity and the respect.”

But back in 1995, the Council sought and won a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding their right to ban gays from the annual parade — which draws hundreds of thousands of spectators.

“We’re not trying to make a statement here,” says Bishop, who served 20 years in the Air Force. “All we want to do is honor veterans – and that’s what their parade does.”

The event flirted with inclusion last year, when the LGBT Group Mass Equality saw its bid denied at the 11th hour. That prompted Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to boycott the march – just as his predecessor Tom Menino consistently did.

Last night’s vote likely means that a Boston Mayor will walk the walk come March 17th for the first time in two decades.

“This ends the controversy,” proclaims a hopeful Bishop.

Probably not. It was the commander of the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council who cast the deciding vote last night, acknowledge that others will view the reversal as “a big thing.”

“But to us,” Patrick Mahoney told the Boston Globe, “it’s a group of veterans what wanted to march and deserved to be honored.”

Some of his comrades on the Council don’t agree though, threatening to overturn the vote on procedural grounds. Indeed, it’s not just members of the Council who are split.

“We’ve got to move forward,” one longtime Southie resident told us . “We can’t stay backwards in the past.”

“I would keep it the same because it’s a South Boston tradition,” countered a woman nearby.

“They served our country,” offered another lady. “So why can’t they walk in a parade?”

“Don’t they have their own parade,” asked a man shaking his head. “Can they not be satisfied with that?”

MORE LOCAL NEWS FROM CBS BOSTON

Ken MacLeod

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