The 50th anniversary of Boston Pride is being observed in the midst of a global pandemic and protests against police brutality and racial inequality. The LGBTQ+ community has always been Boston Strong in its ability to adapt, adjust, and persevere, and this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Boston Pride will be virtual.
Boston Pride held its first celebration in 1970 on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the origin story of gay liberation, when the LGBTQ+ community responded to ongoing police harassment at a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village. That event and today’s protests illustrate how Black and LGBTQ+ civil rights are tied to a shared history of police brutality. As a child of the 1960s Black civil rights movement, I went with a crowd from Brooklyn to Greenwich Village the first night of the riots at the request of my friend Birdie’s father. When Birdie told his dad he was gay, his father asked him if he understood that he didn’t know how to keep him safe. That night, when we got news that white cops were beating up Black gay men at a bar called Stonewall, Birdie’s father, Nate Sr., said, “My son is somewhere there, and I need you all to help me find him and bring him home safely to his mother and me.”
Sadly, George Floyd is the latest Black American to lose his life at the hands of police officers. While his death comes as no surprise, it’s the global protests that do. They are collectively screaming ENOUGH!
Boston Pride, like Pride celebrations taking place across the country each June, forged change, with the Stonewall Riots being LGBTQ+ Americans’ collective scream of ENOUGH!
With Boston Pride celebrating its 50th year, the LGBTQ+ community has racked up an impressive list of civil rights victories that have overturned discrimination laws in Massachusetts and, by extension, the nation. In overturning repressive statutes, the gay liberation movement drew from the playbook of the 1960s Black civil rights movement. Massachusetts’ fight for marriage equality is straight out of the landmark Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, which challenged the constitutionality of a state law banning interracial marriage. In that case, the court decided in Richard and Mildred Loving’s favor, ruling that anti-miscegenation laws are unconstitutional. The Lovings’ “crime” struck at the heart of this country’s racial and gender obsession.
But there was tension between Black civil rights activists of the 1960s — some of whom felt same-sex marriage for LGBTQ+ Americans was not a civil right — and the gay community. Yet differences in historical experiences should not preclude the application of constitutional provisions to gay men and lesbians who are denied the right to marry the person of their choice.
Despite the Black and LGBTQ+ communities’ shared history of struggle, they have not always been staunch allies. Being a Black lesbian who intersects with both communities, it is an ongoing heartbreak for me. As Boston Pride revs up each June, the fault lines along race, class, and gender identity emerge. Boston Pride has become more corporate, as marginal groups within the community are perceived as nonessentials except for photo-ops highlighting diversity. After decades of Boston Pride events excluding LGBTQ+ people of color, we developed our special way to celebrate pride. Boston Pride now includes two programs aimed at LGBTQ+ people of color: Black Pride and Latinx Pride.
Heterosexism is a systemic form of discrimination targeted against LGBTQ+ Americans. However, many of my white LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters had never connected heterosexism’s pernicious harm to their lives with racism’s harm to Black lives. Now, most understand that for LGBTQ+ people of color, George Floyd’s death raises the additional fear we live with always.
Boston Pride is a series of weeklong events, and it is one of the largest public and money-making events in the city. Its parade, the flagship event, typically draws cheering spectators of nearly a million from throughout New England, far overshadowing its early years with hecklers along a sparsely attended parade route. For 50 years, Boston Pride, at its core, has showcased what coming out of the proverbial closet means in terms of self-acceptance. Boston Pride has highlighted the LGBTQ+ fight for civil rights and our varied demands for those rights as citizens of the Commonwealth. It has shown that a democratic society affords us, too, the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
As the nation is beginning to understand that Black Lives Matter, I suspect Boston Pride will, too.
The Rev. Irene Monroe is cohost of “All Rev’d Up” on WGBH, and the first Black Grand Marshall of Boston Pride.