Frustrated LGBTQ activists who have been unsuccessfully pushing Boston Pride to diversify its board upended a planned mayoral debate by persuading several leading contenders to abandon the forum for their own.
City Councilors Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi George, and Michelle Wu dropped out of Boston Pride’s planned Monday debate after being invited to a simultaneous one hastily arranged by activists who are critical of the organization.
“We are holding this forum at the same time as Boston Pride’s forum for the same reason we’re holding the Trans Resistance March on the same day as Boston Pride — to boycott Boston Pride until they transition leadership,” the invitation to the candidates said.
Last year, with the Boston Pride parade and festival called off for COVID, activists staged an alternative event at Franklin Park — a vigil and march for transgender victims of violence. Another vigil is planned for June 12.
The dueling debates are the latest power play by LGBTQ activists — led by Mass NOW, Trans Resistance, the Transgender Emergency Fund, and the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition — to upstage Boston Pride, the group that organizes the city’s largest annual parade. Boston Pride infuriated activists last summer by not more forcefully backing the Black Lives Matter movement and by resisting longstanding requests for more diverse leadership and transgender representation.
Boston Pride’s leadership board has no Black members.
“Our cosponsors have been boycotting Boston Pride for a year now, since 80 percent of the volunteers resigned,” said Sasha Goodfriend, director of Mass Now. “Our demands have not changed. We want the mayor, we want the mayoral candidates, and we want community organizations to take a stand, to hold Boston Pride accountable to being representative of the community.”
In response, Campbell, Essaibi George, and Wu issued statements Tuesday withdrawing from the Boston Pride forum and committing to the activists’ alternative event.
Today marks the beginning of #PrideMonth. After several conversations with BIPOC LGBTQ+ residents & organizers, I have decided not to participate in the Boston Pride candidate forum. I look forward to joining pride events that value and empower BIPOC queer and trans folx. pic.twitter.com/nHcrrPOH4n— Andrea J. Campbell (@andreaforboston) June 1, 2021
“After several conversations with BIPOC LGBTQ+ residents & organizers, I have decided not to participate in the Boston Pride candidate forum,” Campbell said in a tweet. Acknowledging the Tuesday start of Pride Month, Campbell said she would instead participate in events that “value and empower” Black, Indigenous, and people of color, queer and transgender activists.
Pride is a movement rooted in celebrating diversity and inclusion—founded by the Black and brown Trans community. After clear consideration and conversation with LGBTQ+ community members across this city, I have made the decision to no longer attend the Boston Pride forum. pic.twitter.com/2yd6TRWU0T— Annissa Essaibi George (@AnnissaForBos) June 1, 2021
Essaibi George noted that the pride movement is “rooted in celebrating diversity and inclusion — founded by the Black and brown trans community.” Transgender women of color were some of the most visible leaders resisting police oppression at New York’s Stonewall Inn 50 years ago, kicking off annual pride marches.
Wu also said she would join the alternative LGBTQ forum, though she added: “I continue to be in dialogue with Boston Pride seeking to institute the community-driven changes that are necessary for representation and accountability in this transformative moment.”
Boston Pride soon announced it would delay its forum one week out of “respect” for the activists. And by Wednesday, two more candidates — state Representative Jon Santiago and former city chief of economic development John Barros —had also signed on to the alternative forum, said Goodfriend. Barros said in a statement that issues facing Black, Indigenous, and people of color in the community should be front and center.
“From its inception, Pride has been rooted in advocacy, visibility, diversity, and equality. I think we take for granted how far we have come over the years,” Barros said. “I look forward to moving towards a more inclusive dialogue and community.”
The president of Boston Pride said in a statement that the group has been working on an organizational transformation and expects to add new leadership to the board in the coming months.
“We have been working since last year to take responsibility and change the systemic and structural racism affecting our organization,” said Linda J. DeMarco. “We have embarked on an inclusive and deliberative transformation process that is relying on members of the community who are not affiliated with Boston Pride to help us change.”
“We know that there are battles to be fought in support of the marginalized groups in our community who continue to be affected by blatant discrimination and violence,” she added. “This is why we are also fighting to transform Boston Pride to be an organization that is in alignment with all of the members of our LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities.”
Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.