Outdone by numbers and noise from thousands of protesters, a few hundred marchers in a controversial Straight Pride Parade were jeered and heckled Saturday afternoon during a mile-long procession from Copley Square to City Hall Plaza.
“Shame on you!” many of the protesters yelled as the parade, flanked by hundreds of police officers, passed block after block of security barricades on normally busy downtown streets, which had been closed for the event.
After the rally ended at 4 p.m., some of the protesters turned their anger toward the mayor and police, whom they assailed for allowing the parade and then protecting the marchers.
A phalanx of police riding motorcycles rolled up Congress Street toward State Street, with their sirens and lights on, to disperse the crowd, but the mass of protesters moved into the road and blocked the officers’ path.
As the sides faced off, protesters could be heard chanting, “Who do you serve?”
Police moved into the crowd, and officers grappled with protesters, some of whom were knocked to the ground. At least eight people, including a woman limping, could be seen being led away by police.
Officers used pepper spray against the crowd, several protesters said.
A 23-year-old man, who identified himself as June, had white streaks running down his face from solution applied to relieve his reddened eyes.
“We were peacefully protesting in the streets,” he said. “I didn’t expect to be pepper sprayed today.”
Justin O’Donnell, 29, of Nashua, N.H., said he was knocked down by an officer, then sprayed in the face. He said police didn’t give protesters a chance to peacefully leave.
“There were dozens of ways out [where demonstrators] could have left,” he said. “But instead, police chose to use force to clear the protest. There was no need to use force.”
A few minutes after police had broken up the protest, they ordered people up Congress Street to State Street. In the intersection, several officers on foot chased down someone and pulled that person to the ground. They later took that person away. On a nearby sidewalk, a man with a bullhorn was brought down by a group of officers and then taken into custody.
Boston police reported 36 arrests, but spokesman Sergeant John Boyle gave no details. Four police officers suffered non-life-threatening injuries, he said.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who was attending a Jump Into Peace event in Roxbury, said the march “is not any representation of who we are as a city.”
The parade, which attracted some out-of-state marchers and included a Trump 2020 float, was organized by a group called Super Happy Fun America. Its leaders have said they are not bigoted, in response to criticism that they are homophobic.
But protesters called the parade an affront to the LGBTQ community and an intentional effort to stoke discrimination.
“This quote-unquote ‘other side’ is pretending that they’re just a foolish group of freedom-of-speech lovers who are advocating that straight people have all the rights that queer people have,” said Willie Burnley Jr., 25, who helped organize a protest called Hands Off Our Pride at City Hall Plaza.
About 600 protesters outnumbered an estimated 200 marchers after the parade reached City Hall Plaza, where police kept protesters behind barricades about 200 feet from a concert stage where the Straight Pride rally was held.
Lisa Magil, 41, who grew up in Boston, drove from her home in Baltimore to join the protest.
“These people aren’t welcome here, and I felt the need to tell them myself,” she said. “This isn’t about straight pride. This is about hating everyone who isn’t them.”
The parade began at noon in Copley Square, where an organizer on a float said through a loudspeaker: “Ladies and gentlemen, people of all two genders, welcome to the first annual Boston Straight Pride Parade.”
Ralph Ancker, 71, said he had driven five hours from New Jersey to take part.
“They’ve got gay everything, every place, and it’s about time they did something for straight pride. We’re people, too,” the retired truck driver said.
Parade organizer Mark Sahady is part of Resist Marxism, a group founded by an alt-right leader that has a history of violence. That group had helped organize a “free speech” rally in Boston in 2017 that critics said attracted white nationalists.
The grand marshal was Milo Yiannopoulos, a former Breitbart editor who has been banned from Facebook and Twitter for hate speech, was among several speakers at the rally.
Yiannopoulos, who wore a glittering red hat that read: “Make America Straight Again,” praised those having “the bravery to live as open heterosexuals in today’s hostile society.”
He later added: “Maybe one day, even Mayor Walsh will have the courage to come out and admit, ‘It’s great to be straight.’”
Tensions began rising Saturday morning before the parade began. At the corner of Boylston and Dartmouth streets, a man screamed at anti-parade protesters to “get out of my [expletive] town.”
David K. Elkins, 74, from San Francisco, said he would march in the parade because “it’s become less and less PC to be straight, white, and male.”
“That’s considered the bottom of the chain,” he said. “That’s the one group you can still voice negative things about on YouTube . . . and there’s no punishment.”
Meanwhile, in a pre-parade protest at Government Center, the crowd chanted slogans such as “we’re here, we’re queer, we’re fabulous.”
Chastity Bowick, 33, of Boston, said the gathering was organized “to counterprotest the Straight Pride Parade that is being brought forth by white nationalists, white supremacists, racists, and we’re here out of love, to support each other within our communities to fight that hatred.”
Several marchers complained about security checkpoints created by Boston police at City Hall Plaza, which they said were slow moving and hampered turnout.
Gavin Schutte of Chestnut Hill said it took him an hour to get through the barricades, and that “twice or three times the people would be in here” if not for being blocked.
“People talk about suppressing the vote. This is suppression by authorities of a play-by-the-rules event,” Schutte said. “We’re not trying to put down anyone who’s gay or anything. Why can’t we have a little event where we have fun?”
Peter Brown, 33, and Marky Hutt, 32, said they are an engaged couple who have been excluded from the Rochester Pride Parade in New York the past two years but were invited to attend Saturday’s parade. Hutt said he runs a gays for Trump group.
“It’s much harder to be a conservative than it is being gay these days,” Hutt said while holding Brown’s hand.
“Accept and love everybody — it doesn’t matter whether you’re gay or straight. Nobody should be shamed for their sexuality.”
Shoshanna Ehrlich, a professor of women gender studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, protested with her daughter.
“As a straight person, I’m outraged at the idea of them arguing that straight people are an oppressed majority,” she said. “We’re not the ones beat up, marginalized, and harassed for our sexuality.”
The Boston Area Brigade of Activist Musicians protested near City Hall by playing trumpets, trombones, and drums.
“Calling this march ‘straight pride’ is a thinly veiled excuse for white supremacy and hatred,” said trumpeter Matt Morin of Somerville.
Chris Erchull, 37, wore a shirt with the message “Trans lives matter” as he walked on Boylston Street near the start of the parade.
“The people who are demonstrating are doing so without regard to the harm they are doing across the country,” said Erchull. “I feel like it’s my obligation to stand up for the most marginalized, least-visible people in our community.”