The Stonewall Riots of 1969, sparked by police raids of a Greenwich Village gay bar, inspired Pride celebrations around the world, including in Boston. Our city’s first Pride organization, the Homophile Coordinating Council, formed in June 1970, and put on an event that didn’t include a march or a parade, but a week-long series of workshops and forums, culminating in a dance at the Charles Street Meeting House.
Boston’s first Pride march was in 1971, and it was a distinctly political event, organized to highlight four oppressive institutions: the police, the government, hostile bars, and religious institutions. Over time, the community and Pride organizers have debated who to include, who to highlight, and how to represent the community.
This year there will be no Boston Pride parade, an event that has been a magnet for LGBTQ+ people from all over New England, a place to come together and be themselves. Last July, Boston Pride’s board of directors announced the dissolution of the organization after struggling to truly represent the entire community, racially and generationally. Their statement said, “Over the past 50 years, Boston Pride has facilitated programs and events that have changed our society and promoted equality, but we know there is still work to be done.”
Indeed there is plenty of work to do. We are witnessing bare-knuckled legislative attacks on transgender youth and reproductive freedom in states across the nation. Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ Ukrainian refugees and Russian LGBTQ+ activists seek to ensure their physical safety and gain their personal freedom. The dissolution of Boston Pride this year may seem ill-timed, but it is neither without precedent nor disastrous.
While Pride celebrations have occurred since 1970, many different volunteers, organizations, and activists have planned Boston’s Pride. Throughout the years, the LGBTQ+ community in Boston fiercely debated Pride’s identity, function, and form: whether to allow drag performers to participate (in 1973 and 1974), whether to allow businesses or bars to march (1976), whether to allow politicians and religious leaders to participate in the post-march rally (1978), how to address the needs of working-class LGBTQ+ people and people of color (1979), how to support people with HIV/AIDS (1983), whether to charge a fee at the festival (1984), whether to include “bisexual” in the official name of Pride (1989), and how to address calls for “less politics and more entertainment” (1993).
In the last several years, community members in general and, in particular, queer and trans people of color in Boston, have protested the presence of police and the role of corporations in Pride celebrations, the cost of participating in Pride, and the lack of representation and community support of people of color and trans people. The decision to dissolve the organization rather than evolve or support a successor disappointed many, but that decision has created space for new, community-driven leadership and ideas, such as Pop-Up Pride led by LGBTQ+ community organizations, and Trans Pride organized by the Transgender Emergency Fund of Massachusetts.
Other cities, like Medford and Springfield, are having their first Pride celebrations. In Boston, Dyke March (established 1995) continues, and Trans Resistance, which formed just in the past few years, will hold their annual celebration in Franklin Park, in a part of the city never visited by the official Pride Parade. None of this is bad. Our community’s resilience and joy are some of its defining features and part of its greatest strength.
As the needs of the LGBTQ+ community evolve, so must Pride. Pride is not just a celebration or parade, but an opportunity to rally around those who are persecuted, underrepresented, underserved, or ignored. During Pride Month, we demand justice and equity for all LGBTQ+ people. Although so much has changed since the Stonewall Riots, there is always work to do. Some of the easiest ways to support the LGBTQ+ community include: signal-boosting the work of activists, donating to organizations focused on LGBTQ+ protections, voting, and protesting.
Boston’s LGBTQ+ community will continue to make history and as the community’s archives, we’ll continue to document our stories and histories.
Joan Ilacqua is executive director of The History Project, which documents Boston’s LGBTQ+ history.