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Boston Pride announces closing amid controversy over inclusion

A Pride flag was unfurled over construction scaffolding on a Tremont Street building in the South End.
A Pride flag was unfurled over construction scaffolding on a Tremont Street building in the South End.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Boston Pride, which for a half-century advocated for the rights of the LGBTQ community, is dissolving amid a controversy over inclusion, the group’s board of directors announced Friday, threatening the future of New England’s largest Pride parade.

The announcement, posted to the organization’s website, came one month after Pride board president Linda DeMarco said she would resign this summer in response to complaints that the organization excluded people of color and trans people, which led some to boycott the group.

“It is clear to us that our community needs and wants change without the involvement of Boston Pride. ... We care too much to stand in the way,” the board said in a statement. “Therefore, Boston Pride is dissolving. There will be no further events or programming planned, and the board is taking steps to close down the organization.”

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The board said it had “strived to foster an environment of diversity and unity within our organization and the community” but acknowledged “there is still work to be done.” The board said it hopes that “new leaders will emerge from the community to lead the Pride movement in Boston.”

A spokeswoman for the organization said its board had no further comment beyond the statement. DeMarco did not immediately respond to an interview request.

Athena Vaughn, who cofounded the advocacy group Trans Resistance MA last year, when many felt forsaken by Boston Pride, called the board’s decision “a copout.”

“It’s disheartening because it sounds like instead of giving the community … what it wants, they would rather dissolve,” Vaughn said.

The dissolution threatens the city’s 50th anniversary celebration of Pride, which has already been twice postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic and was loosely rescheduled for the fall.

The annual celebration of LGBTQ lives, which grew out of the June 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York, has become the largest single-day parade in New England and provides a huge economic boost to Boston.

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LGBTQ activists and community members said Friday that they expect the parade to continue in some form, with other organizations stepping into the breach. They envision reimagining the celebration in a way that better represents the diversity of the community.

“There will be a new parade,” said Jo Trigilio, cofounder of Pride 4 the People and a former member of the Boston Pride communications team. “I’m confident that there’s going to be a new form of a parade, because Trans Resistance is already happening.”

Trigilio would like to see an event that combines the pageantry of a parade with the purpose of a political march.

“Pride is both a celebration but also a political event, and I think that’s the part of Pride that’s been lost,” Trigilio said. “That’s what people want back, is the focus on the political aspects. To look at the ways in which LBGTQ people, especially those with intersecting oppressions, are still being affected by institutionalized racism, et cetera.”

Julia Golden, interim president of Trans Resistance MA, said the organization hopes to conduct a listening tour in the coming weeks and to collaborate with other LGBTQ groups to develop a new vision for Pride.

“In order to give this back to the people, we want to hear from them,” Golden said. “Trans Resistance is not interested in leading this effort alone. It has to be by the people. That’s what Pride has always been.”

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Boston Pride has long been criticized by some in the LGBTQ community who say it has forgotten its activist mission and become commercialized by corporate sponsors, many of whom don’t share their other social justice concerns.

Sue O’Connell, copublisher of the Bay Windows newspaper , said she has heard criticism that Pride was too corporate for nearly 30 years.

It doesn’t represent everyone, and they certainly had serious and obviously grave challenges meeting the moment that we’re in, and frankly this challenge has been not just the past year for them, but at least the past 10 to 15 years,” said O’Connell, a host at NECN, the official media sponsor of Boston Pride. “Unfortunately they just were not up to the occasion that’s calling for change, and it’s a shame.”

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.

Many activists felt Pride’s board was not taking their feedback and was out of touch with their concerns. 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, if not for the pandemic.

Critics late last year called for boycotting Boston Pride by refusing to register for the next parade or any other event and withholding support and donations until a majority of the board was overturned.

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Trigilio was on the communications team at Pride that assembled the statement on George Floyd’s killing that the board rejected. They then resigned and cofounded Pride 4 the People.

They said Boston Pride was fundamentally organized in a way that wasn’t responsive to the community.

“The board of directors have absolute rule over how Pride is operated,” Trigilio said. “The way the bylaws are written, they don’t require any kind of community input into how Pride is run. I think … that was part of the problem. It wasn’t designed to be responsive to community voices and needs.”

Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.



Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.