Arlington Trying To Celebrate ‘LGBTQIA Pride Month’ Amid Coronavirus

Printed from:

Arlington selectmen have declared June “LGBTQIA Pride Month” and have authorized eight rainbow banners to be erected on street poles in the town.

The Arlington LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission, a town board, sponsored the proclamation and banners.

“I think the acronym alone really speaks volumes, because … when we first started a group like this it was only three letters,” said Diane Mahon, a member of Arlington’s board of selectmen, during an online board meeting Monday, June 8. “That’s indicative of the inclusivity and welcoming that these past committee members and current have done.”

The letters often stand for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual.

The LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission has had to cancel many of the events it had planned in June because of the coronavirus emergency, so the banners along Massachusetts Avenue are an especially important feature of its celebration this year. The group doesn’t plan to paint crosswalks rainbow colors this year, because of the need to maintain social distancing. The usual banner on Arlington Town Hall isn’t expected to appear.

A commission member, Andy Rubinson, told selectmen that the commission raised the money for the double-sided street pole banners, which the commission’s web site pegs at $350 apiece, or $2,800 total for the eight. One rainbow banner says “Happy Pride.” The other has the logo of the commission.

Joseph A. Curro Jr., a selectman, thanked the town manager and commission members for their work to “help to brainstorm about ways that we can address some of the gaps that still exist in certain service to the LGBTQIA-plus community here in Arlington.”

“I miss being in our chamber, because usually during the month of June we have the large rainbow flag above one of the entryways going into the chamber. So I’ll look forward to that next year, too,” Curro said.

The commission’s logo includes 17 slender multicolored blocks radiating out from a rainbow-colored semicircle.

“It’s a response to be as inclusive as possible. You can see the number of different orientations and gender flags as we could fit in a logo,” said Julia Forsythe, chairman of the town’s LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission.

Town Meeting in Arlington established the LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission in 2017, according to the commission’s 2018 annual report. The commission seeks “to promote full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ individuals and groups through affirming policies and programs, resources, advocacy and community building,” according to its web site.

A town bylaw states that the LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission is “to promote equality-affirming policies regarding the full spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities, and to bring greater visibility and empowerment to the LGBTQIA+ population through education, advocacy, and collaboration with other Town agencies, schools, and community groups.”

John Hurd, the chairman of the town’s board of selectmen, praised the commission during the meeting Monday, June 8.

“This committee is so important to the town. It does so much work. And year after year, the rainbow coalition, is just – it’s very present. Of all the committees, it does. We see a lot from the Rainbow Commission. And it’s a lot of work. Which we understand, and we thank you for,” Hurd said.

Hurd read the 656-word proclamation word-for-word before the board voted unanimously to adopt it.

The proclamation states in part:

“We continue to work toward uniting against oppression, police brutality, racism, transphobia, and many other disparities that disproportionally impact these communities.”

The proclamation says that the coronavirus emergency has sparked discriminatory public comments.

“During COVID-19, we must continue to denounce racist and xenophobic overtones that have pervaded some conversations of the on-going pandemic and its response while bringing awareness and assistance to disproportionally impacted communities,” the proclamation states.

The proclamation makes reference to the Stonewall Riots that began in June 1969 after a police raid of a bar in Greenwich Village in Manhattan that caters to homosexuals.

“Efforts to create a better world through acts of resistance to the inequitable enforcement of unjust laws and local-, state-, and federally-sanctioned harassment and abuse of LGBQTIA+ people, Black people, Latinx people, Asian people, Indigenous people, and women have continued since the second half of the 1960s,” the proclamation states. “51 years later, we continue to do this work and to seek the same outcomes for all people.”

Arlington is one of seven towns in Massachusetts that have gotten a perfect score on a Municipality Equality Index from the Human Rights Campaign, a homosexuality-affirming advocacy and lobbying group headquartered in Washington D.C. that raised almost $49.4 million in 2017, according to its tax-exempt Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

The other municipalities that got a perfect score in 2019 are Boston, Cambridge, Worcester, Salem, Northampton, and Provincetown. (Also making the list, but with less than perfect scores, were Springfield, Amherst, and Lowell.)

One of the standards of the scorecard is to have town bylaws that go beyond state requirements when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity.

The town of Arlington’s bylaws mention “sexual orientation” four times and “gender identity” three times.

In addition to the LGBTQIA+ Commission, the town also has a Human Rights Commission, established by a town bylaw designed “to bring about the elimination of prejudice, intolerance, bigotry, unlawful discrimination, threats, coercion or intimidation” upon the basis of 14 characteristics, including sexual orientation and “gender identity or expression.”

The bylaw also states:  “Nothing in this Bylaw shall be construed as supporting or advocating any particular religious or political view or lifestyle.”

The town’s bylaws mention the word “diversity” seven times. One of the duties of the town’s Human Rights Commission is to “Monitor, publicize and, where necessary, act to increase the diversity on appointed Town boards and committees.”

Among other forms of outreach of Arlington town government, the town’s police chief is the police department’s official liaison to the town’s LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission.

The town also has a diversity, equity, and inclusion coordinator, who was hired in January 2020. The town manager’s budget calls for a salary of $55,000 for fiscal year 2020, which ends June 30, 2020.

The selectmen’s discussion of the Pride Month proclamation and banners on Monday, June 8 took 23 minutes 17 seconds.

Toward the end, Lenard Diggins, a member of the board of selectmen, asked the chairman of the LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission, Forsythe, to describe the tail end of the group’s acronym.

“Could you tell people, because I think a lot of people don’t know what the ‘QIA+’ stands for?” Diggins said. “Just for educational purposes.”

“The ‘Q’ is queer. There’s a number of people in the community that are reclaiming the term “queer’,” Forsythe responded.

“I actually thought it was ‘questioning’,” Diggins said.

“’Questioning’ as well. It stands for multiple things,” Forsythe said.

She noted that “I” stands for intersex (meaning people born with sex characteristics of both male and female), “A” stands for asexual, “and we just add the plus to continue to expand the letters.”

Diggins suggested spelling out what the letters mean in a future Pride Month proclamation.

“And I’m a big fan of the ‘plus’,” Diggins said. “I have my identity. And I’m not into identity politics, per se. And so I didn’t really campaign on the notion of my sexual orientation.

“But I do remember when the flag was first made. Just LGB. And it was important to start adding all those other letters. And I very much support the ‘plus,’ because as we know, there are lots of different kinds of people, and lots of different relationships.

“And as happy as I am for gay marriage – being with both my partner and I being technically bisexual. We don’t really claim that a whole lot, because a lot of people think being bisexual as you’re kind of like half gay. Well, you know, you’re half and half. I mean, not so much half gay, half straight. But that you have, you’re kind of equal kinds of partners.

“And also, my first relationship was with a couple, a male-female couple. And it would have been great for us to have been able to form something legally binding amongst the three of us. But that wasn’t possible. It still isn’t possible. But it is great that we’ve made that step that we have gay marriage.

“So the ‘plus,’ I think, lets us know that we do have more work to do.

“And one of the great things I have felt about Pride, is that, I’d like to see it eventually emerge, evolve into just a kind of an appreciation for the range – I mean, the rainbow range of human sexualities. And so that I’d love for us at some point to be out in June just celebrating being human, sexual creatures, that just appreciate each other for what we are.”