Tens of thousands packed Boston’s streets from Copley Square to City Hall Plaza on Saturday for the 49th Boston Pride Parade, an annual celebration of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community’s gains in rights and respect.
This year’s march honoring the anniversary of a turning point in the movement began under a cloudless spring sky and snaked through the Back Bay, South End, Bay Village, and Beacon Hill, culminating in the Pride Festival on City Hall Plaza.
Marchers cheered and waved colorful paper fans; gyrated to anthems like “She Works Hard for the Money” by Boston’s own disco diva, the late Donna Summer; or clapped along with the pulsing techno beats coming from a float labeled “Mayor Martin J. Walsh. Celebrating 49 Years of Boston Pride.”
Peaceful revelry was the order of the day, and Boston police said no arrests were made.
Along the route, spectators wore feather boas, colorful rompers, and sequined hot pants.
Jeff Chen, 27, of the North End sported a headpiece made of a golden unicorn horn surrounded by red and yellow flowers with rainbow centers, along with partially sequined denim overalls.
“In past years, I’ve been a little more conservative . . . but this year, I don’t care,” said Chen, who was attending his third Pride parade, his second in Boston. “I want to be myself. I want to have fun. I want to enjoy everyone’s company. I want to be positive for everyone.”
The parade — and the Pride Month events that surround it — commemorates the Stonewall Uprising, a 1969 clash between LGBTQ patrons at a Greenwich Village bar, the Stonewall Inn, and New York police who routinely harassed them. A police raid spawned a riot, which grew into days of enraged protests, pushing a movement that had been mostly genteel into a militant phase.
Charles Evans, 70, and his husband, Paul Glass, 69, both of Falmouth, were among the few paradegoers who experienced the Stonewall riots firsthand.
Early on June 28, 1969, Evans explained, he left another Greenwich Village bar, the Bon Soir, and headed to Sheridan Square. “And as we got closer and closer, the crowd got larger and larger, and then we heard the sirens coming. Next thing you know, it was billy clubs going.”
Glass lived in Boston, he said, but he happened to be in New York during the clash.
“I ran up . . . and came up into whirling lights, police cars out, and people yelling back, and lots of commotion,” Glass said. “It was a scary time, but it was also very liberating. . . . There was such a groundswell of anger around the police harassment and brutality of the LGBT community.”
Evans wasn’t openly gay then, but the next night he returned and joined the protests.
“Being black, born in the South during that time, and then saying you were gay was really, really hard.” After the uprising, he said, “I was proud to come out and say I was a black gay man. A lot of it started from that night at Stonewall, to see the people [saying] enough was enough.”
Boston Pride, the parade’s organizer, honored that hinge point through the theme for this year’s celebration, “Looking Back, Loving Forward,” which also acknowledges the work that remains, as LGBTQ Americans see frequent attacks on their ability to live freely and openly — from the White House, to pulpits, to the streets.
Last month, the Trump administration moved to revoke health care discrimination protections for transgender people, a group the president had already banned from military service. And last weekend, Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin told his congregants they shouldn’t support Pride Month events, prompting a national outcry.
At least eight transgender women in the United States have died in homicides so far this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. And a far-right provocateur touched off a firestorm of controversy recently by announcing plans for a so-called Straight Pride Parade in Boston.
But along the parade route, the city looked like a model of acceptance, as marchers waved the rainbow flag of LGBTQ Pride and the pink, blue, and white of Transgender Pride.
Elena Janowiak, 23, of Roxbury, who moved to Boston for graduate school last summer, waved the pink, yellow, and blue flag that represents pansexuality.
“Pansexuality basically means it’s about hearts, not parts,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re male, female, trans male, trans female, nonbinary — everyone’s hot to me.”
Janowiak celebrated Pride with her friend, Allison Huts, 25, of Madison, Wis., who was visiting Boston and wearing a large pink, lavender, and blue flag celebrating her bisexuality.
“It’s a spectrum — people need to realize that,” Huts said of sexuality.
Further down the route, Caryl Haddock, 62, of East Boston said she has been coming to Pride since 1976.
“When I think back to my first Pride, it was back when it was a march and a rally, not a parade and a festival,” she said. “It was because we had no rights. We were still being arrested; bars were still being raided. The difference now is huge. . . . Things have definitely changed.”