In 2004, before I even knew what the word “sexuality” meant, Massachusetts became the first state in the US to legalize gay marriage in a defiant Supreme Judicial Court ruling. Though I could not understand the historical significance of this moment at the time, it had unequivocally changed my life for the better. Unlike a vast majority of the world’s LGBTQ population, I was suddenly afforded a reality where queerness was neither strange nor legally persecuted– it was celebrated.
On August 31st, 2019, I spent a sunny Saturday afternoon flushing pepper spray out of the eyes of protestors as a man carrying a “make normalcy normal again” sign freely strolled down Boylston Street in the shade of a massive Trump float. In late June, a thinly-veiled supremacist conglomerate called Super Happy Fun America successfully requested a permit to parade through our city streets, despite being spearheaded by Resist Marxism. This is a group with ties to neo-fascist organizations like the Proud Boys, who recently attracted national attention for violently assaulting a person while shouting “faggot” at the victim. Shortly after the march was given the green light by municipal officials, Mayor Marty Walsh tweeted that permits “are granted based on operational feasibility, not based on values or endorsements of beliefs” and, last weekend, when the highly-anticipated parade finally unfolded, the local queer community watched Boston officers unleash chemical weapons, batons, and cuffs on non-violent protestors, journalists, and unaffiliated onlookers. In an instant, one of the most gay-friendly cities in the United States chose to endorse an act of intimidation from the far-right. Instead of playing it safe for the queer community, our officials played it safe for themselves.
It is a mistake, albeit a tempting one, to understand this as an isolated event. Less than a year ago I was confronted by Mark Sahady, leader of Resist Marxism, at a trans rights rally. He and a handful of other “activists” were canvassing for No on 3, a campaign that pushed for the rollback of anti-discriminatory protections for transgender people in Massachusetts through a ballot question. Much like Straight Pride, the campaign was expected to collapse under popular opposition but still succeeded in striking a sense of unease and fear in a demographic that already faces extreme stigmatization. I consider myself to be relatively thick-skinned but no amount of “dyke” or “fag” screamed from the bowels of a speeding car could prepare me for “transexuals are mentally ill and need to be converted” coming from the loudspeaker of a tactical political effort. I walked away feeling exactly as I did on the heels of Straight Pride: scared, unsupported, and dangerously close to traumas that I never had to experience. As I learn that freedom for the LGBTQ community in my state is not bulletproof, I find myself asking “how is this happening?”
Based on the arena-appropriate stage rolled out for Straight Pride’s finale at Government Center, especially in comparison to the laughably small crowd in attendance, it’s fair to conjecture that they had some very generous donors. Though Super Happy Fun America’s financial information is not available online, we can examine the budget of the No on 3 initiative that Resist Marxism was involved with in November. Freedom for All Massachusetts, advocates of Yes on 3, collected hundreds upon hundreds of small contributions, whereas Keep Massachusetts Safe, the organization running the No campaign, raised a majority of its funds from a small handful of donors making five figure donations. The names of these affluent benefactors include investment banker Thomas Shields, Dover retiree Walter Weld, portfolio manager Robert Bradley, and David Stubblebine, the president of a Lexington-based real estate firm. Behind the grunt workers, who spend their time harassing queer teens in public spaces, stands a group of wealthy conservative businessmen who are attempting to force their ideas on a progressive stronghold.
This mirrors the exact predicament that the entire country is contending with right now. It’s why the average voter is scrambling to find representatives who will protect them from well-endowed but bad-intentioned interests. It is why the current apathy from local leaders is not just inadequate, it is dangerous.
For example, Cambridge Mayor Marc McGovern accepted thousands in campaign donations from the same Stubblebine family which gave more than 20K to the campaign to repeal transgender rights. In a local race where every dollar counts, the 4,000 he took from that family is a staggering sum. If Marc McGovern, who has run on progressive platforms, is really an ally, he will return this developer’s money. Charlie Baker has also accepted thousands from Thomas Shields, another big name behind Keep MA Safe. At Straight Pride, Milo Yiannopoulos, a celebrity in alt-right culture, said that giving Boston Straight Pride would be Mayor Walsh’s “legacy” because he won’t be remembered for anything else, and I can’t say I disagree. At a time when bigotry is sweeping across the United States, the same politicians who promise to maintain perimeters of protection for the LGBTQ community are failing us. No amount of rainbow crosswalks or tokens of solidarity can mask the intention of their pockets; no affirming Pride month speech can ease the trauma of watching Somerville, Cambridge, Boston, and Quincy police deliver physical blows to queer constituents.
When I got home from Saturday’s counter-protest, I took a long shower. I had just finished overseeing the release of an older and disabled trans person who had been arrested while she was attempting to escape the chaos of that afternoon. Her cane was confiscated (and lost) after she was tackled to the ground, and she could not walk further than a couple of feet without experiencing severe pain. My co-medic treated a fifteen-year-old child who was taken in with a head injury. Legal observers were visibly shook throughout the action. I splinted the broken wrist of an elderly woman who was not tended to by Boston EMS. And when I finally rinsed the pepper spray from my face, I cried for this city’s LGBTQ community, for the fresh emotional wounds created in a new generation that never had to withstand the conditions that led to riots like Stonewall, and for our predecessors who fought so that we would not have to sustain the loneliness that they did.