How gay is Southie?

By ERICA CORSANO  |  October 19, 2009

Back at Shenanigan’s, a prominent local business owner and straight resident of the Southie community, 48-year-old Mike McNally, is drinking with a group of Irish immigrants. He doesn’t have a problem with the gays moving into his townie ‘hood and isn’t concerned about rising real-estate costs, either. He does, however, talk to me about the St. Patrick’s Day parade. McNally is part of that old guard of locals who feel that gay groups shouldn’t be able to march. “Marching to make a statement is wrong,” he says between quaffs of his pint of beer. “The parade turned away the KKK for the same reason they turned away the gays . . . a political statement should not be made with the parade — they should respect tradition, family, and humanity.”

Equating an LGBT organization with the Ku Klux Klan seems beyond a stretch, but I am shocked to learn that several gay men I spoke to share McNally’s sentiments about the parade. Justin Henry, 29, and Brett Campbell, 29 — both gay men who helped start New Southie — don’t feel there is a need for gay men to march in the event. Says Henry, “I don’t see why we need to have a gay group in the parade. They should choose to march in the parade for being Irish, not gay . . . but that’s just me. I’m a bit more understated and don’t care for labels. Maybe those people should march in the Pride Parade?”

Campbell agrees. “I think if there are a bunch of gay men that are marching to celebrate their Irish heritage or community, they should march, but it shouldn’t be about their sexuality. And there are gay people already marching in the parade — I know that for a fact, but they are just not saying they are gay. Firemen, police officers, etc.”

The very thought of gay men supporting the ruling disgusts my roommate Mickey when I bring it up. To him, the whole point of the participation wasn’t to make a point— it was to celebrate heritage. “The fact that it was banned by the court is crazy,” he said. “Today you might be banned from a parade, and tomorrow it might be a job, or a home, because it’s the same federal paradigm of laws that do not protect our rights.”

Every community includes a gay population, many of which identify with their cultural heritage even more so than with their identity as a gay person. And while the parade officially shuns gays, the unofficial home base of the local Irish community — its bars — seems fine with the current gay influx. And the fact that the younger members of New Southie — who came of age (and out) in a post-Stonewall era — never had to fight for their pride privileges is a sign of just how far we all, and South Boston, have come.

“I have been surprised at how well the events have been received,” adds Sheats, “but I’m not naive . . . not everyone is going to be accepting. I’m hoping that people will start seeing us as part of South Boston and begin to appreciate what we can bring to the community.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself. Welcome to the gayborhood.

Erica Corsano is the editorial director of Stuff magazine. She can be reached at ecorsano@phx.com.

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