The embattled president of Boston Pride plans to resign this summer to make way for new leadership in response to activists who have boycotted the group to protest its lack of inclusion.
Pride board president Linda DeMarco had previously been reluctant to step aside, instead saying the board would fill vacancies and expand its number to boost diversity. This week, she told the Globe that she intends to step down, and that her exit plan is “a little accelerated now because I think the boycott is really hurting the community.”
The timing of the leadership reshuffling will likely jeopardize the 50th anniversary celebration of Boston Pride, which has already been twice postponed due to the coronavirus and was loosely rescheduled for the fall. Boston Pride, a joyful celebration of LGBTQ identities, has become the largest single-day parade in New England and provides a huge economic boost to Boston.
But activists who have been agitating for change in Boston Pride — calling it whitewashed and “trans-exclusionary” — have already stepped into the gap, upstaging it with events of their own to mark Pride Month.
On Saturday, Trans Resistance MA will host its second annual vigil for Black Trans Lives, starting with a march from Nubian Square to Franklin Park and ending with a rally and performances. This week, four groups, including Trans Resistance, staged a political power play by persuading every major candidate for mayor to abandon Boston Pride’s scheduled political forum and instead attend their own.
Their new relevance signals a remarkable changing of the guard in Boston LGBTQ leadership and a warning that even within progressive organizations, leaders can be dismissed as establishment, antidemocratic, and unrepresentative of the grass roots.
“A year later, the movement has won,” if DeMarco and other board members step down, said Sasha Goodfriend, director of MassNOW, which cosponsored the alternative mayoral forum this week. “It’s a huge testament to the power of grass-roots organizing that this volunteer-led initiative was successful.”
Sue O’Connell, copublisher of Bay Windows and a host at NECN, the official media sponsor of Boston Pride, said the discontent has been years in the making.
“The pandemic and the reckoning of our unjust racial past has just claimed the Pride committee because they were unable to actually do the right thing over many, many years,” she said.
Pride celebrations grew out of the June 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York — a violent resistance to police abuse that was led in part by trans women of color. In its later years, critics say, Boston Pride has forgotten its activist mission and become commercialized by corporate sponsors, many of whom don’t share their other social justice concerns.
The long-simmering conflict boiled over last summer, after protests erupted nationwide over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The Pride board rejected a statement drafted by its own communications team and issued a watered-down version without consulting its Black Pride subcommittee members. That was the last straw for many activists who felt Pride’s board was not taking their feedback and was out of touch with their concerns.
“When that happened last year, the ground shifted,” said Jo Trigilio, a longtime Pride volunteer who quit last year and formed an offshoot group called Pride 4 the People. “There’s no putting it back.”
Eighty percent of Pride’s volunteers quit in protest and some 2,000 people flocked to the first Black Trans Vigil at Franklin Park on the day that would have marked Boston Pride, but for the pandemic.
Critics late last year called for boycotting Boston Pride by refusing to register for the next parade or any other programming and withholding support and donations until a majority of the board was overturned. Their boycott has been joined by 25 other organizations including Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, GLAD, Mass NOW, Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, and the Center for Black Equity.
One point of contention is that the current board has no Black members. But rather than lining up to participate, activists have called for a boycott of the board seats, too, calling them “powerless positions.” They’re calling for all current board members to step down — not just for vacancies to be filled — and won’t cooperate until they can claim a majority on the board.
As a result, the activists and the board have been in a standoff for months.
“Hopefully, the transformation advisory committee can get some members on board — and people who are boycotting us can step up to the plate,” said DeMarco.
Despite DeMarco’s stated intentions to resign, the activists remain skeptical.
“I’ll believe it when I see it in writing. It’s taken them a year to get this far,” said Chastity Bowick, who cofounded Trans Resistance MA. “And we’ve been asking for this same thing since last summer.”
DeMarco suggested she will leave it up to her successors — whenever they are named — to try to pull off planning for the massive parade by fall.
“Since there’s going to be a new board, we’ll let them make that decision,” said DeMarco.
O’Connell noted that organizing the massive parade is a grueling undertaking.
“It’s a major volunteer organization that takes up an enormous amount of time and it’s one of those positions where nobody is ever happy with you,” she said.
If not for the pandemic, the temporary loss of Boston Pride would be “unacceptable,” said O’Connell. But the past year has brought uncertainties to all normally reliable annual events like the Boston Marathon.
“If it wasn’t feasible to actually do the parade this fall, it would not harm the pride committee or harm Boston Pride,” she said. “It would just give them an opportunity to regroup and decide what they’re going to do next year. "
Trigilio expressed confidence that the Pride parade will be back in full force eventually, even if it has to be postponed or scaled down for the time being.
“It might look different. In fact, I hope it looks different,” Trigilio said. “That’s the whole point.”