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For the first time since 2019, Boston hosted its annual Pride parade, organized by Boston Pride for the People — a newly formed LGBTQ+ group.
The parade had been canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, though its absence in spring 2022 was for a different reason: the lack of a clear organizer. Boston Pride, the group that had managed the parade for the last five decades, announced plans to dissolve amid controversy in 2021, and with it went queer Bostonians’ chances for a Pride march for that year.
Through its 53-year history, the parade has come to rival the Boston Marathon in size, attracting crowds larger than the population of the city itself along its much shorter two-mile course.
Boston Pride for the People announced in February that it would bring Pride back to the city with new leadership, new values, and a greater emphasis on diversity, garnering significant media attention.
Accompanying this publicity were questions over whether the new group could host the massive and logistically challenging event while meeting its stated goals of diversity, inclusion, and a locally-centered approach.
Following the June 10 march, however, attendees and organizers alike reported jubilation at the long-awaited return of a Pride parade.
“What I heard from a lot of people is just how emotional the event was,” said Jo Trigilio, vice president of Boston Pride for the People. “The volume of people who showed up was just so mind-boggling. It’s hard not to feel joyous, supported, surrounded by love.”
That emotion persisted despite the downpour that overtook the festivities that afternoon, Trigilio said.
“I was on the [Boston] Common when it started to rain,” they said. “I thought ‘Oh, people are going to run home because it’s pouring rain’ — but people were dancing and jumping up and down in the Common. They could just kept dancing and dancing in the rain.”
Underlying this year’s parade experience, however, was an array of new policy and logistical changes that Boston Pride for the People made to the event in response to the concerns that prompted the group to form in the first place.
Frustrations against Boston Pride, the previous organizer of the parade, first surfaced publicly in 2015. That year, activists halted the parade for 11 minutes by physically blocking its path to call attention to a list of demands they had made for improvements in the parade’s accessibility, greater inclusion of transgender people and people of color, and reduced corporate presence.
Protesters used the slogan #WickedPissed, a riff on the Parade’s own marketing hashtag, #WickedProud. Demands included a parade course that would pass through more diverse areas of Boston, greater diversity in the host organization’s board of directors, and more scrutiny for corporate sponsors.
Those critiques of the old Pride, many of which the new organizers themselves made publicly at the time, were central in reshaping this year’s Pride, Trigilio said.
Trigilio said some of the key changes adopted by Boston Pride for the People began with outreach to queer Bostonians through a series of listening sessions in the leadup to the parade.
The parade and celebrations included several spaces to accommodate diverse groups with different needs, including a quiet area, an area for older LGBTQ+ adults, a youth area, and a family area.
When arranging the marching order of the participating groups, Trigilio said organizers put youth and trans organizations like the Trans Remembrance Memorial at the front, along with other “community groups.” Corporations were not part of the parade, while employee resource groups, representing associations of queer employees at various companies, were placed at the back.
“We really did try hard to minimize the amount of logos people were seeing and instead just really emphasize the community connection aspect to Pride,” Trigilio said.
Daunasia S. Yancey, a member of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ+ Advancement and one of the leading activists in the 2015 #WickedPissed protests, said she noticed the difference.
“I was marching with the Mayor in our office, but we were not in the very front of the parade. There were several groups that were before the Mayor, and I think that that also was intentional.” she said, describing the effect as “getting back to this kind of grassroots history of ‘the people first.’”
Gabrielle Jonas, a prevention network coordinator with GLBTQ+ Adolescent Social Services, said it felt “more localized” and “very much a Boston thing — it was something put on by the community.”
Corporate sponsors — a critical source of funding for an event as large and expensive as Pride – were this year subjected to a vetting process before their sponsorship was accepted. Deciding factors included donations to lawmakers supporting anti-LGBTQ+ or anti-choice legislation, the Human Rights Campaign’s corporate equality index, and a racial equity tracker.
On the issue of police presence, which has been contentious for other cities’ Pride parades around the US, Boston Pride for the People decided to keep police securing the parade while trying to “minimize” their presence, Trigilio said.
While Boston Pride for the People has promised to embrace a forward-thinking approach and cater to the needs of residents, some local organizers called for greater accessibility and equity from the group.
Alexa Cortez, who utilizes a walker and served on Boston Pride for the People’s board as its accessibility chair until she resigned in mid-May, said she decided not to participate in the group’s parade, largely due to its route that runs through Boston Common.
Cortez said that Boston Common, due to its hills and uneven dirt, the rainy weather, and the extended hours of the parade was “completely inaccessible” for those with physical disabilities — a point she said she raised to her peers at Boston Pride for the People several times.
“Almost every meeting we had on a weekly basis, someone would say, ‘How are we different from the old Pride?’ and no one could answer,” said Cortez.
“One of the core values of our organization is accessibility,” wrote Boston Pride for the People President Adrianna Boulin in an emailed statement Wednesday. “Our all volunteer team went to great lengths to make this the most accessible Pride event in Boston in decades.”
Boulin added that the group “put in place as much as we could during our first year, including ASL interpreters during the entire festival.”
According to Boston Pride for the People’s official site, other accessibility measures for its 2023 parade and festivals included Covid-19 precautions, nearby public transportation, booths and food trucks located only along paved paths, and a “quiet tent” away from crowds for “those needing respite from overstimulation.”
Trans Resistance interim president Julia R. Golding said centering Pride around a single prominent organization might overshadow the efforts of and draw support away from other nonprofits, including her own.
For instance, Golding said, people may be less inclined to donate to “small grassroots campaigns” and “smaller groups” like Men of Melanin Magic, a Boston-area group that hosts celebrations aimed at queer men of color.
“They never thought about the economical impact they were having on these groups,” Golding said of Boston Pride for the People. “Now that’s not their fault — or maybe their problem — but in an equity-based lens, maybe it should be.”
Golding said Boston Pride for the People may have taken up a great deal of government support as a “shiny new toy,” hindering other groups.
“I think other groups could see that there was a little bit more favoritism with Boston Pride [for the People], and I think that that’s understandable,” Golding said.
“But also, there are so many other groups that are doing this work that it would have been really easy to have the Boston mayor’s office ask, ‘How would you like us to work with you all? How can we help you?’ None of that was ever done,” Golding added. “I thought that was unfortunate.”
A spokesperson for Boston Mayor Michelle Wu ’07 did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Her office declined a request for an interview for this article.
Casey A. Dooley, another board member of Trans Resistance and a former chair of the previous Boston Pride’s Black and Latinx Pride committee, said that Boston Pride for the People must devote more time to “work on the harm that was done by the previous group.”
Dooley added that the group should prioritize “figur[ing] out how not to replicate that going forward and try[ing] to make sure that they’re holding the most marginalized identities in the forefront with everything that they’re doing.”
“Listening to community voices and responding to feedback is an ongoing, open process,” Boulin, the Boston Pride for the People president, wrote in her emailed statement. “We welcome meaningful engagement with individuals and community groups as we continue to improve programming and accessibility for everyone.”
Boston Pride for the People arises from a complex history marked by controversy, where different perspectives continually intersect. Their revival of the parade this year reflects a national trend in which organizers have sought to define the authentic form, spirit, and mission of Pride.
Pride in Boston had its inception in June 1970 according to Joan Ilacqua, the executive director of The History Project — one of the nation’s largest independent queer archives. That year, around 50 gay and lesbian activists marched and rallied from Cambridge Common to Boston Common in homage to the Stonewall Riots.
The official parade began in 1971 in the form of a march, in which a few hundred individuals followed a route that included stops at the downtown drag bar Jacque’s Cabaret, the Boston Police headquarters, the Massachusetts State House, and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
“They read lists of demands at each one of those stops,” Ilacqua said. “The community at that time was interested in safety, visibility, overturning laws that harassed gay people — which included Puritan-era statutes against same-sex activity — as well as vague laws that Boston had.”
Trigilio, Boston Pride for the People’s vice president, said they felt the new group was “pretty successful” in staying true to Pride’s roots of centering local needs by “listening to what it is that people wanted and then trying to implement that.” They pointed to the group’s efforts to solicit input from local organizations and hold public meetings and town halls throughout its first year.
“The LGBTQ community is extraordinarily diverse, and so it has to be an ongoing project, inclusion does,” Trigilio said.
Asked about what an ideal future for Boston’s LGBTQ+ organizations looks like, Golden, the Trans Resistance president, stressed the need for collaboration and sharing resources between different groups and the willingness to engage in difficult conversations about change.
“If you center the people who need the help and the people who need community, it means that these nonprofits work better together,” Golden said. “It means that we work smarter not harder, and that we come together and think about how we actually accomplish our values and mission.”
“Each and every one of these organizations is doing their best to help and to make a better equity-based landscape for LGBTQ people,” Golden added. “But it isn’t going to happen unless we are willing to get down in the dirt and talk about what are we doing to overcome these barriers, these systems that were never meant for us.”
Dooley said she is “definitely hopeful for the future” and excited about the open-mindedness of younger generations. Dooley added, however, that “we have a long way to go considering there’s been over 500 anti-LGBTQ, especially trans bills that have been brought up within the government just since January.”
Boulin wrote in her statement that “Boston Pride for the People was proud to bring Pride back to Boston this year.”
“The effort — to start a volunteer-led, community-centered organization from scratch and plan a parade that drew as many as 1 million people — was accomplished because so many people in our community lent their time and energy to this cause,” she wrote.
This piece is part of The Crimson’s 2023 Pride Month special issue.
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