The patriotic souls of the Catonsville Celebrations Committee come up with a new reason every year to prevent a group of gay and lesbian veterans from marching in the local Fourth of July parade.
With each passing year and each new reason, the committee serves painful reminders of how little it understands the concepts of equality and freedom that are honored on Independence Day.
A county law passed before the 1992 celebration required permits for parades, thus granting control of the events to their organizers. The Catonsville parade committee, which has never hidden its disapproval of homosexuality, wielded its new power by excluding the gay and lesbian vets.
Last year, a new committee bylaw said any group wishing to join the parade had to be sponsored by a committee member. Because no member would back the veterans, they were blocked again.
After last year's event, the vets applied for the 1994 parade permit before the celebrations committee did, figuring they would win it by being first. They planned to trade the permit to the committee for the opportunity to march in next week's parade under the banner of Gay and Lesbian Veterans of Maryland Inc. However, a communications snafu resulted in the permit going once more to the celebrations committee. And once more, the committee says the veterans group cannot march in the Fourth of July parade under its banner. This year's reason? The veterans' presence would violate the committee's prohibition against "political statements" during the parade. Never mind that many people would argue that a Fourth of July celebration is a political statement.
As the recent national controversy over gays in the armed forces attests, this is an issue that makes folks nervous, in both military and civilian ranks. Indeed, a General Accounting Office report found that the Pentagon spent nearly $500 million during the 1980s to recruit replacements for gays and lesbians who had been booted out of the service. Homophobia can be expensive.
It also has no place in an equality-minded nation, particularly on the day of its founding. Few would blame the veterans if they get their fill of the committee's road blocks and decide the Catonsville parade isn't an event they want to be associated with anyway. All the more reason, though, for them to persist until they can finally march down Frederick Road on July 4, getting the respect they earned for having risked their lives for their fellow citizens. Including everyone in Catonsville.