What do you do when your country's founding document entitles hate to march through your streets?
That's the question I'm left pondering after attending Saturday's "Straight Pride" parade in Boston. I do want to tell you about it so that you can appreciate the same schadenfreude I did, witnessing how pathetic it was. But I also am left feeling with a bit of hopelessness because of the inevitable conflicts that precipitated, for which I personally believe there is blame to go around -- and no clear solution.
The Parade Itself
Saturday morning my loyal friend and I found a shady section of street from which to watch the Straight Pride march. The streets had all been cordoned off, and according my friend, a Boston resident, the area was eerily quiet. Sure, there were plenty of tourists and folks enjoying Boston Common and the Public Garden, but a block away, there was very little activity. What looked like popular brunch spots had mostly empty seats that should've been full on a day with such beautiful weather.
This wasn't a coincidence. It seems people were very intentional about steering clear of the parade route. Likewise, many of the businesses along the route were flying rainbow flags -- months after Boston Pride. In one case, we also saw a business had put signs in its windows less subtly saying, "Go home, alt-right scum." (Alt-right is a euphemism white nationalists have used to describe themselves.)
And nobody besides the two of us was standing there on Boylston St. actually waiting to watch the parade. (That, combined with the fact we were decked out in rainbows, is probably why Channel 7 News came up to us to ask for comment. I'm proud to say I was featured in that news report saying, "Heterosexual nonsense has reached a new level.")
Here was our view of the very empty street as we heard the sound of "God Bless the USA" approaching:
By the time it got to us, the soundtrack had switched to Aretha Franklin's "Think" (freedom! freedom!), which I mean... really?
There were only about three or four exhibits in the entire parade. There was hockey goalie Santa with a boom camera, filming everything that followed. Then there was the giant Trump 2020 float, complete with grand marshal Milo Yiannopoulos and a ton of racist and xenophobic messages. Then there was one more car with some of the organizers in it. All told, I don't think there were more than 100 people marching, and it'd probably be safer to describe it as "dozens." It was a fairly paltry display and a very short parade.
\u201cThis was the one float in the very short #StraightPride parade, featuring Milo of course.\u201d— Zack Ford (@Zack Ford) 1567268081
I wasn't able to get a picture, but I saw a girl as young as seven years old marching, carrying one of their many signs that read "Make Normalcy Normal Again." As they passed by, the two organizers pulling up the rear said into their megaphone, "Ladies and gentlemen, people of all two genders, we welcome you."
It was no secret that this was a group of white supremacists and "Straight Pride" was just a stunt to parade their hate. They were openly spouting anti-LGBTQ+ messages as well as other Trumpian calls to reject immigrants and sow division. I later happened to walk past the "Trump Unity Bridge" float -- not original to this parade -- where it was parked to get another view of its xenophobic messages:
And despite claims that the parade was not meant to be anti-LGBTQ+, just "pro-straight," there was plenty of evidence to the contrary in addition to the "all two genders" comment we heard, like this neo-Nazi and this Steven Crowder fan:
\u201cDavid here at the Boston Straight Pride Parade has been going on for the last 10 minutes ranting about how the Jews faked the holocaust, rule the world and created the LGBT movement to destroy America\u201d— Sam Bishop (@Sam Bishop) 1567264627
\u201cstraight pride parade: \u201cthe straight pride parade is not a homophobic event!\u201d\n\nalso the straight pride parade: \u201cI AM ANTI-GAY!\u201d and screaming F*GGOT at queer people while wearing a \u201csocialism is for f*gs\u201d shirt\u201d— molly conger (@molly conger) 1567271080
Let's be clear, the LGBTQ+ protesters significantly outnumbered the Straight Pride organizers. There were several different protests organized, drawing hundreds, if not over a thousand. There were some Antifa folks to be sure, but there were also college students, families, volunteer medics, a marching band, and a whole lot of other folks who wanted to just send the message that hate was not welcome in Boston.
Now don't get me wrong, I saw some activism that I didn't think was helpful or appropriate. For example, many of the Straight Pride participants had to abandon their hand-held American flags to enter the secure area for speakers, and I saw some Antifa activists burning those flags. I have no objection to that form of speech, and I can even understand a rationale that white nationalism attempts to co-opt symbols of patriotism as symbols of hate. But not only did the burning seem both petty and off-message, but they were literally starting fires in a big crowd. It seemed unnecessarily hostile and dangerous.
That kind of hostility was few and far between and was in no way representative of the majority of counterprotesters standing up for LGBTQ+ equality. Even still, I personally witnessed no violent interactions.
So What Happened?
There were reportedly 36 arrests at Straight Pride -- almost all of which I believe were counterprotesters or journalists. There were also four police officers reportedly injured, though not seriously. Based on what I saw and heard and have seen since, I believe that a majority, if not all, of these confrontations and altercations were caused by Boston Police.
After my friend and I watched Straight Pride go by, we took a detour to catch up with the parade and counterprotests. Along the way, we discovered the police massively building up its forces, including officers in riot gear as well as dozens of officers on motorcycles. They had clearly brought in additional police from the surrounding areas.
This massive police presence would shortly thereafter insert itself into a logistical situation that they clearly were not prepared for -- with force as their only tactic.
After Straight Pride passed Boston Common, the counterprotesters literally filed in line behind them. Unlike some other rallies, there was a period where there was no clear division between the two groups, which isn't good. But that actually peacefully resolved itself after the Straight Pride folks were cloistered in their secure staging area by City Hall while the protesters remained outside along Congress St..
Clearly, not everybody got the memo, and we saw Straight Pride participants walking right past the counterprotesters, who proceed to boo them, flick them off, and chant "shame!" a la Game of Thrones. The Straight Pride speakers program reportedly couldn't start for a while because many of its participants couldn't figure out how to enter the secured area (and there weren't that many participants to begin with), but even with this logistical confusion, you basically still had the counterprotesters outside the event and no altercations that I saw or have since discovered (unless you count Milo's security guard shoving satirical presidential candidate Vermin Supreme after he got in Milo's face).
But then the police came. Using that cavalry of motorcycles we'd seen earlier and an arsenal of pepper spray, they forced their way through where the protesters were situated and truly created chaos. My friend and I fled that area as soon as we heard the police sirens coming our way, because we knew how robust their forces were. According to videos I've seen since, the police were simply unapologetic as the protesters attempted to follow their orders despite the limited room to move in that area.
\u201cShameful Display by the @bostonpolice at #StraightPride\n\nCharging into protestors who were protesting peacefully on the sidewalk, beating, arresting, and pepper spraying.\n\nMake no mistake straight pride is hate pride and cops are here to protect and uphold white supremacy.\u201d— nia (@nia) 1567273371
Even The Guardiannoted in its report:
In one confrontation with counter-protesters, a police officer pepper-sprayed several as the group tried to obey requests to make more space. Access to "straight pride" organizers was limited; one Boston police sergeant turned some media away despite viewing press credentials.
As far as I know, based on what I saw of the counterprotesters, there was no reason for this act by police. I just fail to believe that there was no other way for them to have the protesters clear the area -- nor am I even sure that demanding that they clear the area where they were peacefully counterprotesting was necessary or appropriate.
And this result was anticipated, which is why a bail fund was set up in advance. Even lawmakers like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) helped support the bail fund, which met its goal to support those arrested.
So where does that leave us?
The Cycle Repeats
I'm left feeling very frustrated that everything is kind of rigged just to ensure that hate is proliferated while those who actually stand for equality are punished.
Think about the ingredients we're stuck with. We have a First Amendment that is so broad it guarantees that hateful messages can march down our streets with police protection. We have police who have a record of unjustly targeting and punishing minority groups. We have activists like those who identify with Antifa who feel inspired by the rise of hate to respond with equal and opposite extremism. All of the counterprotesting activists have good reason to distrust the police protecting the haters, chanting "Who do you protect?! Who do you serve!?" at them. Then the police choose to respond to that group with pure force, not even attempting any form of mediation or peaceful crowd management.
Those who are rallying for a just and equal society -- whatever their approach -- are painted as the unruly villains who can't control themselves, even though it was the police who initiated unnecessary force. Minority groups' distrust for the police only increases. And the haters? They're left almost kind of looking like the good guys who weren't personally involved in the scuffles, and they can then capitalize on the optics to further demonize the groups they already hate.
Of course, none of this would have happened if they hadn't insisted on marching hate down the street in the first place.
Yes, these white supremacists are trolling us. They literally had the trolliest of trolls as a grand marshal. But the reason they're able to troll us is not because we respond. I personally have no regrets about bearing witness to their nonsense, and the hundreds of people defending LGBTQ+ rights and other communities were an impressive response.
The reason they're able to troll us is because of the flaws in our democracy that are still rigged in their favor. They're able to troll us because nothing stops them from putting their hate on parade. They're able to troll us because our police ensure that their hate is protected. They're able to troll us specifically because of the oxymoron that is "Straight Pride": straight, cis, white men are never subject to the systemic injustices that other groups are. They know they have that advantage, and their entire goal was to rub it in everybody else's faces. And they succeeded ably.
"Straight Pride" was a farce, with a pathetic display and a pathetic showing, especially compared to the counterprotesters who outnumbered them. But I think we'd be remiss if we dismissed what it symbolizes. We are not an equal and just society, and we are currently led by a president who wants us to be a less perfect union -- who is magnifying the divisions of social inequality that were on display this weekend. That's why Trump was at the center of this hateful display, meager as it was.
So don't just laugh off Straight Pride. Take it as the sign it is that our democracy is flawed. It's 2019, and hate is walking down our streets with heads held high -- and we really don't have a plan for scaling it back.
This op-ed was originally published in the LGBTQ+ newsletter Fording in the River Styx. You can subscribe to it here.
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