The changing face of pride
The Stonewall Riots of 1969, sparked by police raids on a gay bar in Greenwich Village, inspired Pride celebrations around the world, including in Boston. Our city’s first Pride organization, the Homophile Coordinating Council, formed in June 1970 and organized an event that did not include a march or parade, but a week-long series of workshops and forums, culminating in a dance at the Charles Street Meeting House.
Boston’s first Pride Parade took place in 1971, and it was a decidedly political event, organized to shine a light on four oppressive institutions: the police, the government, hostile bars and religious institutions. Over time, the community and Pride organizers have debated who to include, who to highlight, and how to represent the community.
This year there will be no parade for Boston Pride, an event that attracts LGBTQ people from across New England, a place to come together and be yourself. Last July, Boston Pride’s board of directors announced the organization’s disbandment after struggling to truly represent the entire community, racially and generationally. Their statement said, “Over the past 50 years, Boston Pride has facilitated programs and events that have changed our society and promoted equality, but we know there is still work to be done.”
Indeed, there is a lot of work to be done. We are witnessing bare-knuckle legislative attacks on transgender youth and reproductive freedom in states across the country. Meanwhile, Ukrainian LGBTQ+ refugees and Russian LGBTQ+ activists seek to secure their physical safety and personal freedom. The dissolution of Boston Pride this year may seem inopportune, but it is neither unprecedented nor disastrous.
While Pride celebrations have taken place since 1970, many different volunteers, organizations, and activists have planned Boston Pride. Over the years, Boston’s LGBTQ+ community has fiercely debated the identity, function and form of Pride: whether or not to allow dragsters to participate (in 1973 and 1974), to allow businesses or bars to march (1976), allowing politicians and religious leaders to participate in the post-March rally (1978), how to meet the needs of working-class LGBTQ+ people and people of color (1979), how to support people living with HIV/AIDS (1983), whether to charge a fee at the festival (1984), whether to include “bisexual” in the official name of Pride (1989), and how to respond to calls for “less politics and more entertainment” (1993).
In recent years, members of the community at large, and queer and trans people of color in Boston in particular, have protested the presence of police and the role of corporations in Pride celebrations, the cost participation in pride and the lack of community representation and support for people of color and trans people. The decision to disband the organization rather than evolve or support a successor disappointed many, but the decision created space for new community-driven leadership and ideas, such as organization-led Pop-Up Pride LGBTQ+ and Trans Pride community organized by the Massachusetts Transgender Emergency Fund.
Other cities, like Medford and Springfield, are holding their first Pride celebrations. In Boston, the Dyke March (established in 1995) continues and Trans Resistance, which has formed in recent years, will hold its annual celebration in Franklin Park, in a part of town never before visited by the official Pride Parade. None of this is bad. The resilience and joy of our community are some of its defining characteristics and part of its greatest strength.
As the needs of the LGBTQ+ community evolve, so must Pride. Pride is not just a celebration or a parade, but an opportunity to come together around those who are persecuted, underrepresented, underserved or ignored. During Pride Month, we demand justice and fairness for all LGBTQ+ people. Although so much has changed since the Stonewall riots, there is still work to be done. Some of the easiest ways to support the LGBTQ+ community include: promoting the work of activists, donating to organizations focused on LGBTQ+ protection, voting, and protesting.
Boston’s LGBTQ+ community will continue to make history and as a community archive, we will continue to document our stories and our histories.
Joan Ilacqua is executive director of The History Project, which documents Boston’s LGBTQ history.