In a 10th-floor auditorium inside the Fenway Health building, about two dozen people sat in the waning daylight listening to instructions for guiding Boston’s first LGBTQ+ Pride parade since 2019.
The new organizers leading the revived and revamped promenade through the Back Bay and South End on Saturday presented a shortened route, listed prohibited items, and pointed out designated public restrooms that will be open. Here and there amid the dry talk of logistics were reminders that the parade is a distinctively LGBTQ+ event.
“We love you in heels. We want you in heels,” said Daniel Ortega, the parade’s co-chair, as he rattled off a list of what to bring. “If it’s too much to walk 1.7 miles in heels, do bring a sneaker backup, whatever you need — flip-flops. Just make sure that you’re ready for the trek.”
In many ways, the training session last Wednesday evening high above the Fenway was like any other meeting in preparation for a parade, highlighting safety precautions and viewing locations along the route. But after a three-year hiatus, the planning surrounding the revival of Boston’s Pride parade — once the largest single-day parade in New England — is also about ensuring the inclusion that some say was missing in the past.
And, of course, the right pair of shoes.
“What I hope it will feel like is, ‘Wow, I see me in this,’ or ‘My experience is somehow reflected in this,’ ” said Adrianna Boulin, president of Boston Pride for the People, in an interview.
“And if not, what I hope is that message and feedback can get back to us,” Boulin added. “We are not naïve [enough] to think that we can create what will be perfect for everyone. But we want to make sure . . . if there is an experience or an individual . . . not included, that they can reach back to us.”
Boston’s annual march celebrating LGBTQ+ lives ― like the other pageants that take place in cities across the country each summer — grew out of the June 1969 Stonewall Inn uprising in New York. Organizers say the parade in recent years has brought roughly 1 million visitors to Boston and they expect a similar turnout this year.
Boston Pride for the People, which hosted last year’s Pop-Up Pride event on Boston Common, announced in February that it would organize this year’s parade. The parade was scuttled in 2020 and 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic, and in July 2021 the Boston Pride Committee announced it would shut down amid a controversy over claims it excluded people of color and transgender people.
This changing of the guard is not unprecedented. The Pride Committee that said it would disband in 2021 was established in 1999, after an earlier group of organizers dissolved amid mounting debts and controversy over its management of the parade.
The procession is returning as the LGBTQ+ community is under renewed attack by conservatives across the country. State lawmakers have broken records for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation this year, passing 74 such bills and introducing more than 520, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ+ advocacy group.
On Friday, Texas became the 19th and most populous state to ban gender-affirming care for minors, the Associated Press reported. Seven states have passed laws this year requiring or encouraging educators to disregard transgender students’ stated identities, according to the HRC. Last month, Montana became the first state to ban people in drag from reading to children at public schools and libraries.
Massachusetts’ Democratic-led Legislature has mostly stayed out of this culture war, but attacks on the LGBTQ+ community have come here in the form of death threats to Boston Children’s Hospital staff for providing care to transgender children and neo-Nazi-led protests at drag queen story hours in Jamaica Plain, the Seaport, Fall River, and Taunton in the past year.
With such harassment on the rise, parade organizers have been working closely with Boston police and “attending LGBTQ-related security briefings on the city, state, and federal level,” they said in a statement.
The Nationalist Social Club, or NSC-131 — a self-proclaimed “pro-white, street-oriented fraternity” that organized the local anti-drag protests and is classified as a neo-Nazi group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — has not indicated on its social media accounts that it will have a presence at the parade.
Boston police spokesman Sergeant Detective John Boyle said the department has been working with organizers and is not aware of any specific threats targeting the parade.
“We’re prepared. We’ve met with people. We have an operational plan that we’re comfortable with,” Boyle said in an interview. “Our goal is to keep people safe, to keep order, to make sure everybody has a great day.”
Getting members of the diverse LGBTQ+ community on the same page in planning the parade wasn’t always easy, according to Chastity Bowick, a Pride for the People board member.
“In the beginning there were a lot of challenges, because with so many organizations coming together . . . everybody had their input on how we should move forward,” said Bowick, a transgender rights activist and cofounder of Trans Resistance MA. “We did a lot of community listening sessions to figure out what the community wants.”
Bowick added that the former Pride Committee “left the situation like a toddler.”
“Like, if I can’t play with my toys, nobody can,” she said. “They would refuse to give us any contacts that they had for sponsors, or anything of that nature.”
Linda DeMarco, president of the previous Pride Committee, said the group was “very cooperative with everything that they requested” and passed along banners, bullhorns, safety vests, and other materials left from past parades. But the outgoing group could not share private contact information, she said.
“They signed up to work with the Boston Pride Committee, so it was really not appropriate for us to hand over any confidential information,” DeMarco said.
As the organizers started fresh, they set a new policy — they would not accept money from sponsors that support any efforts that are anti-LGBTQ+, racist, or antiabortion, Boulin said.
“When you choose not to accept money from . . . a business or organization or corporation that has made certain donations . . . that greatly impacts how much money you can take in,” Boulin said. Still, Pride for the People is on track to meet its goal of raising $750,000, she said.
“We’ll do it, and we’ll do it again, because that’s what we’re committed to,” she said.
The parade’s 10,000 marchers will be about one-fifth as many as in 2019, and groups will be capped at 75 members, so the promenade should take about two to three hours, instead of five, organizers said. The parade will end at Boston Common instead of City Hall Plaza, the celebration’s destination in recent years, with the shorter route intended to make participation more accessible.
The Common will host an all-ages festival with live music; sections for seniors, teens, and families with young children; and an affinity space “where people . . . can come together to workshop or just network or be with each other,” Boulin said.
And there will still be a celebration on City Hall Plaza — a 21+ party with a beer garden, DJ, and circus performers. The Common and the plaza will both feature open-air marketplaces and tables for local organizations supporting the LGBTQ+ community, Boulin said.
At the training on the top floor of Fenway Health, Victor Terry, director of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging at Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester, said he came to the meeting to prepare for the K-12 school’s first time marching.
“I think this is going to do major things for our student body — to just see their teachers, their guardians, the adults in their lives supporting them, being there with them in this,” he said. “I’m expecting to see a large group of Black and brown people participating this year, which speaks volumes for the city of Boston.”