LGBTQ activists who blasted the leaders of Boston Pride for resisting inclusion and failing to embrace the Black Lives Matter movement last summer are calling for a boycott of the city’s largest parade, and planning to stage an alternative event for the second year in a row.
Most of the event’s volunteer workforce resigned last summer after Boston Pride’s board watered down its proposed statement on the racial protests roiling cities nationwide.
Since then, the board has hired a diversity consultant and pledged to appoint a “transformation advisory council” but has rebuffed demands for a complete overhaul of the nine-member board. Instead, the leaders have spoken of adding seats to the board, while letting four seats sit vacant since the summer.
All of that has cemented volunteers’ long-term concerns that Boston Pride does not make space for queer and trans, Black, and indigenous people, and people of color. Currently, there are no Black board members.
“People think if we expand or we change, everything should be fine. Over the years, that is what white individuals have done to people of color,” said Athena Vaughn, who cofounded Trans Resistance when many felt forsaken by Boston Pride in June. “It has to be gutted out, cleaned, and restarted. You can’t do that with the same board that was there before.”
Linda DeMarco, president of the Boston Pride board, insists change is on the way.
“It takes time. It’s an organization. We have fiduciary responsibilities. We need to keep the organization moving,” DeMarco said. “We just can’t all resign, and not move forward.”
Yet that’s exactly what the activists demanded, saying DeMarco and her fellow board members control all decision making and have been dismissing activists’ input and giving lip service to inclusion for years.
And some Black volunteers said they are no longer willing to work with the same entrenched leaders, who don’t seem willing to share power, or even move forward by having difficult conversations about systemic racism.
“I sadly hoped that I could be the change from within,” said Casey Dooley, the volunteer who chaired Black Pride for the group before quitting last summer.
“If there were some changes made so that there’s some actual democratic structural changes that can involve the input of the community, I think that would be vital,” she added.
The schism, years in the making, tore open in the 50th anniversary year of Boston Pride, which celebrates LGBTQ identities and has become the largest annual public parade in New England. The parade was originally inspired by the uprising at the Stonewall Inn in New York, where Black drag queens were among those who led the protest against harassment by police. Activists have long complained that Pride has strayed from its renegade roots to become a commercial, family-friendly, civic celebration. But they were incensed last summer when the issue of police abuse was blazing again, and their leaders issued a statement they regarded as tepid.
Jo Trigilio, a longtime volunteer, said the statement she’d drafted for Boston Pride expressing allegiance with Black people killed by police was rewritten and released in a more anodyne version, without anyone consulting the communications team or Black Pride representatives.
“We had put #BlackLivesMatter on it. They took it off,” said Trigilio. “I just felt like this moment in time is not the right time to be wishy-washy.”
Judah Dorrington, of Dorrington & Saunders, the diversity consulting firm Boston Pride hired in the aftermath, said the organization’s leaders made a grave error.
“It was more than a mistake,” Dorrington said. “It was erasure.”
Dorrington has worked with the board over the past six months, and plans to help its members appoint a “transformation advisory committee.” The consultants hope to guide Boston Pride “not only to right a wrong,” Dorrington said, but also to “not be complicit in this kind of structural racism, white privilege, and authoritative decision-making process.”
DeMarco said the existing board is striving to move forward, despite the criticism.
“All the existing board members have felt horrible about this whole thing that happened. But they didn’t leave,” she said. “Yeah, we are white. But we’re not bad people. But we can do better.”
Trigilio said the board members work hard and aren’t “bad people,” but they should have stepped aside after the backlash from Black and transgender members. Instead, the board has failed to engage them directly, only reaching out to them through a lawyer — with “cease and desist” orders for their newly formed offshoot groups to stop using names that too closely mirror “Boston Pride.”
“I know that they feel like they’ve done a lot. But they didn’t do the right thing,” Trigilio said.
The activists who hope to “reclaim” pride are working with Vaughn’s Trans Resistance group, which drew a crowd of about 2,000 to a vigil and march in remembrance of transgender victims of violence on the June day that Boston Pride had been scheduled. (The pandemic forced Boston Pride events online and a postponement of the 50th anniversary celebration to this summer.)
It’s still unclear whether the pandemic will cancel Boston Pride for a second year in a row. But either way, the Trans Resistance March and Vigil will take place on June 12, said Vaughn.
“Evolution is inevitable,” said Vaughn. “But it cannot evolve under the same leadership that’s been there for over 20 years. It just can’t.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect pronoun for Judah Dorrington.