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‘We need to come together on the left’: LGBTQ leaders ponder the challenges ahead

Janson Wu, the executive director of GLAD.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

With this being Pride month, I’ve been thinking a lot about what issues are top of mind for the LGBTQ community.

I often write about diversity in the workplace and our power structures through the lens of gender and race but not enough as it relates to sexual orientation. Over the past few weeks, I’ve spoken with local LGBTQ business and civic leaders, asking them to reflect on how far the community has come, but also what challenges lie ahead — or may already be here.

There are high notes such as Maura Healey chasing history in the governor’s race. She stands a good chance of becoming the nation’s first openly lesbian governor. At the same time, efforts to undermine equality abound, from a flurry of anti-LGBTQ bills across the country to the potential end of same-sex marriage if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Here’s what LGBTQ leaders are saying:


‘We’re not in 1950 anymore, but it feels like we are sometimes’

Grace Moreno, executive director of the Massachusetts LGBT Chamber of Commerce, estimates that there are about 22,000 LGBTQ-owned businesses in Massachusetts, yet only about 400 are chamber members. That’s because many still believe it would be bad for business if they came out.

“A lot of them would rather just stay under the radar, and that has different kinds of consequences in society when people are not showing up with their full and complete self,” Moreno said. “It’s 2022. We’re not in 1950 anymore, but it feels like we are sometimes.”

Moreno acknowledges the LGBTQ community has come a long way but is still not where it should be.

Janson Wu, executive director of GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), is paying close attention to how a case before the Supreme Court could undermine Roe v. Wade.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

“The progress that we have made still is not enough to really be considered a person that is created equal in one nation under God,” she said.

One of Moreno’s priorities has been to make sure being LGBTQ counts as diversity, whether in the disbursement of small business grants or eligibility for supplier diversity programs.


“When the general bigger society thinks of discrimination, the LGBTQ community continues to get left out,” Moreno said. “People think that because there’s a few white guys who are gay in our community or bi or trans, they don’t have discrimination. The truth of the matter is that they’re discriminated against very heavily.”

‘The fight is here’

Janson Wu, executive director of GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), is paying close attention to how a case before the Supreme Court could undermine Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that legalized abortion. Most urgently, he said, the ruling will affect millions of women and many in the LGBTQ community, even as abortion remains protected in Massachusetts. At least 26 states are expected to restrict or ban the procedure if Roe is reversed.

That case is just the latest example of legal challenges that erode LGBTQ rights. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Catholic group that did not want to place foster children with same-sex couples. In 2018, the court sided with a Colorado baker who refused for religious reasons to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

Based on the leaked draft opinion penned by Justice Samuel Alito, overturning Roe appears to be another attempt to chip away at rights including same-sex marriage.

“Alito and other conservative legal activists, their project is to overturn this concept that the Constitution protects some of the most sacred freedoms that we have taken for granted, even though they’re not written in the Constitution,” Wu said.


Massachusetts may have been the first state to recognize same-sex marriage nearly two decades ago, but there’s more work to be done. For instance, Wu said Beacon Hill should pass the Massachusetts Parentage Act to clarify who can be a parent and establish parentage that offers legal protections to all families.

And to Wu, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law that bans some classrooms from discussing sexual orientation is the tip of the iceberg. He said that more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed in state houses across the country this year, including in Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

“The fight is here,” he said.

‘It actually is life-threatening’

Much of the anti-LGBTQ legislation aims at taking rights away from transgender youth. For Grace Sterling Stowell, a member of the trans community, the backlash goes beyond politics.

“It actually is life-threatening,” said Sterling Stowell, the longtime executive director of Boston Alliance of LGBTQ Youth (BAGLY). “It’s not just a difference of opinion, criticism, or different viewpoints. It’s targeting the health care and the mental health and the very existence of trans people and their families.”

Sterling Stowell said it’s critical to recognize the rise in hate crimes — such as attacks against Jews, Asian Americans, immigrants, and people in the trans community — are part of a broader right-wing extremist movement.


“It’s so important we don’t see these as separate issues,” she said. “They are interconnected issues and part of a coordinated attack.”

Sterling Stowell said that means progressive-minded people need to be better organized, locally and nationally, to craft policies and pass laws that protect their most vulnerable communities.

“We need to come together on the left,” she added, “and not allow them to separate us.”

You get to say, ‘I’m all of my identities’

Elyse Cherry, chief executive of BlueHub Capital and who ranks among the top LGBT business leaders in the world, has been a longtime supporter of Healey and marvels at how being an openly gay candidate has been normalized, at least here.

“Being gay is just part of who she is,” Cherry said. “It’s a non-issue ... I just think that’s terrific.”

Cherry also co-chairs The Equality Fund at the Boston Foundation, which was launched a decade ago to support Greater Boston nonprofits that serve and strengthen the LGBTQ community. The fund is in the process of hiring a director, and one new area of focus is recognizing how LGBTQ people often have more than one identity.

“How is it that we’re going to provide services that meet people at all of their identities? If I am a Black lesbian, I should be able to be equally comfortable in either community in terms of either services or engagement,” Cherry said.

“You don’t just say, ‘I’m a this or a that,’ " she added. “You get to say, ‘I’m all of my identities,’ and all of them should be integrated together.”


‘Less reluctance for people to identify as being LGBTQ’

After graduating from business school in 1995, Beth Chandler went to work for a financial services firm. Among thousands of employees, she did not know a single colleague who identified as LGBTQ. That’s not what it’s like today, especially at the senior levels of many companies.

“There seems to be less reluctance for people to identify as being LGBTQ, and that’s actually a good thing,” said Chandler, who is the chief executive of YW Boston. “People want to see that in leadership at a lot of organizations, and that’s very different than, certainly, when I started my professional career.”

Living in Massachusetts, Chandler feels supported, but she can’t say that about the rest of the country. In particular, she worries about opponents of same-sex marriage using the same playbook that has led to the potential upending of Roe.

And even though Massachusetts has a law to protect gay marriage, a reversal at the federal level would have ramifications for same-sex couples like Chandler and her wife, from social security survivor benefits to how they file tax returns.

“If this strategy meets with success, why wouldn’t they do it for the other things they don’t like? Gay marriage is a big one,” Chandler said.

Shirley Leung is a Business columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com.