Around New England

Homosexuality-Affirming Boston Pride Ridding Itself of ‘Individual, Interpersonal, Institutional and Structural Racism’

April 17, 2021

An organization that runs Boston’s annual homosexuality-affirming parade has announced the appointment of seven members to a new committee designed to rid the organization of racism.

“Boston Pride is dismantling the systemic oppression and individual, interpersonal, institutional, and structural racism within its own organization,” Boston Pride said in a written statement Friday, April 16.

The 490-word statement does not specify examples of racism. But the New Transformation Advisory Committee, which is designed to root it out, “will advise the organization during the ongoing transformation process to ensure that its vision, mission, and values are in alignment and in the best interest of the LGBTQ+ community,” it says.

The organization’s statement makes reference to “concerns raised by Black, Brown, transgender people and other members of the community” which “compelled Boston Pride to examine the board and the entire organizational structure including programming of events for Pride 2021.”

The signature event of the organization, the annual June parade in the Back Bay and Boston Common area of Boston, has been cancelled for the second year in a row because of the coronavirus emergency. Organization officials are looking to the fall of 2021 instead, but aren’t sure it will happen.

Boston’s first homosexuality-affirming parade was organized by the Homophile Coordinating Council in June 1971, according to a history on the Boston Pride web site published in 2015. That was two years after the Stonewall riots at and outside a bar in New York City that catered to homosexuals following a police raid.

The parade, which has also at times been called a march, has gone by several names over the years.

Boston’s original parade organizers identified several targets.

“When the March took place, it sought to highlight four oppressive institutions in Boston:  the police, the government, hostile bars, and religious institutions,” the parade history states.

It included a demonstration outside the Episcopal Church cathedral in Boston, St. Paul’s, demanding that the church ordain homosexuals, bless the relationships of same-sex couples, re-examine marriage and the family, and re-examine roles based on sex.

The march culminated with a ceremonial smashing of “a large brown closet” on Boston Common, according to the history.

The history includes conflicts over nudity, simulated sex acts, political opposition and division, and complaints of racism.

As early as 1976, a workshop “focused on racism within and outside the gay and lesbian community and its effects on people of color.”

In 1977, a Boston State College professor threw his Harvard diploma into a fire on a wok, followed by his draft card and health insurance card, according to the history. Then he read an anti-same-sex-sex-act verse from the Book of Leviticus, and then “paused, held up the Bible, and tossed it into the fire.”

In 1978, organizers renamed what had been known as “Gay Pride Week” to “Lesbian and Gay Pride Week.” Participants criticized Governor Michael Dukakis, a Democrat, for refusing to proclaim “an ‘Annual Gay Pride Week’.”

In 1979, organizers worried that events “were too oriented to white, middle-class men” tried to emphasize homosexuals who were poor and members of racial minorities, according to the history.

In 1981, the parade route went right by the Parkman House, a city-owned mansion on Beacon Hill used by then-Mayor Kevin White as a sort of home away from home, not long after White, a Democrat, eliminated the position of “the city’s first liaison to the gay and lesbian community” in a round of budget cuts. White went to court to try to change the parade route, but lost.

In 1985, parade organizers were dismayed by what they felt were efforts by then-Governor Dukakis to distance himself from them in preparation for his run for president in 1988 – including a policy designed to make sure that foster children were placed not with homosexuals but rather with “traditional families.”

In 1986, a black homosexual activist complained that a homosexuality-affirming bar in Boston “required multiple IDs from people of color.”

In 1987, the parade included an effigy of Governor Dukakis outside the Massachusetts State House plastered with “Foster Equality” stickers. Mayor Ray Flynn approved the first raising of a homosexuality-affirming flag at Boston City Hall. (He later spoke at the parade rally in 1990.)

In 1988, for a dollar, parade-goers could throw an egg at a photo of Dukakis. That was also the first year the history describes nudity, as some women went topless.

In 1989, some activists decried the organizers’ decision not to include the term “Bisexual” in its title, but an organizer “explained that Pride did not want ‘an infinite name’,” according to the history.

In 1993, “Some onlookers bemoaned the large number of businesses in the March.”

Around 2000, some questioned the need for the parade. But enthusiasm rekindled, particularly with the creation of same-sex marriage by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 2004.

In 2009, the theme was “Trans-forming Our Communities,” in a gesture of solidarity with transgender people.