The Boston Straight Pride Parade was many things: loud, obnoxious, tense at times and humorous at others. The one thing it was not? A straight pride parade. Instead, the event painted a chilling picture of the extremist alt-right forces afoot in our cities, masquerading under the almost laughable guise of celebrating their straight sexuality. And yet, in an unexpected turn of events, the protest felt more to me like Pride than all of June had.
Before anything else, we need to talk about the name. “Straight Pride” caused a sensation on news and social media platforms, inciting jokes and controversy over the misguided objective. I truly didn’t know what to expect—it sounded like a conservative publicity stunt to “trigger liberals,” but I also knew that there had to be something deeper going under the surface. The group organizing the event is called Super Happy Fun America, a name dripping in an irony that only a radical eye could catch on to. And yet, despite all my predictions, the Straight Pride Parade took me by surprise, opening my eyes to a truth more painful and screamingly evident than I had ever expected—the fascist alt-right is here and they’re our neighbors.
straight pride is wack pic.twitter.com/tHMmbMQGE4
— martina! (@okthenagain) September 5, 2019
And yet, at the same time, shouldn’t I have known this was coming? The groups who marched in the streets were an agglomeration of white supremacists, Neo-Nazis and fascists uniting together to form some sort of extremist alt-right monster, all the while using straight pride as a smokescreen to mask their fatal nationalism. If it had truly been about straight pride all along, the Trump signs wouldn’t have been relevant and the Iron Crosses would be gone, and Milo Yiannopoulos, a gay man, would never have been crowned the keynote speaker. We had all gleefully swallowed the far-right’s lie in favor of humor, and now the streets of Boston were filled with white supremacists, emboldened in their freedom of expression. The parade allowed the alt-right to feel a different kind of ‘pride,’ weaponizing them with their own open confidence in the face of marginalized groups.
I never really thought that I would look members of the fascist far-right in the eyes, and yet perhaps that was a naive thought. Safe with their Make America Great Again hats and the Straight Pride flags clutched in their fists, these people could have passed as my neighbors. They looked like your run of the mill racist aunt and uncle, everyday people who had been militarized to violent and hateful levels. Often times it’s easy to fall into the delightful little myth that fascists and white supremacists could never be in your city, but Neo-Nazis don’t normally walk around with swastikas on their shirts, and we forget who’s hiding in plain sight.
— martina! (@okthenagain) September 5, 2019
Another part of the parade that I’m still grappling with is the sheer amount of police presence. An officer jokingly told me that there were “about a million” cops there, but he couldn’t have been that far off. They took every possible form of transportation imaginable, from cars and bikes to helicopters and motorcycles. There must have been four MBTA buses packed with riot police trailing the parade, just in case of a problem. It was an eerie image: the police force, which plays an important role in the system of oppression, and often targets queer communities of color, marching in tandem with the alt-right and their ‘Blue Lives Matter’ signs.
straight pride is literally just cops pic.twitter.com/uhM0wyTbM3
— The Bad Boy of Online (@yung_kropotkin) August 31, 2019
At the same time, I understand that the city of Boston would want as large a police presence as possible in order to prevent the violence of the Unite the Right riot in Charlottesville. One of the most powerful weapons of the far-right is violence, and as strong proponents of the second amendment, I can’t help but imagine that the marchers were itching for a fight. While I’m glad that the city was prepared for any mishaps, I can’t say that I didn’t wonder who was being protected from whom. The chant “Who do you serve, who do you protect?” rang in my ears as protesters cried for a medic, and despite the heavy police presence, they took no action. Only protesters who had designated themselves as volunteer medics ran to help.
I can still remember the drone of helicopters mixing with the haunting melody of Beethoven’s 5th symphony as chaos seems to bubble on the surface of the crowd. At times, the scene resembled a childish spat, insignificant and forever unresolved. And yet, I know exactly why we protested: because it was something to keep us from breaking down. It seemed almost like a sacred ritual, the queer community coming together in the face of our oppressors. The disingenuous corporate sponsors and cishet partiers were gone, the empty festivities over. Instead, a passionate group of queer people came together to show fascists what was up. People took care of each other, passing around cough drops for sore throats and bottled water to combat the sun. It makes sense that this felt like a second Pride to me, perhaps a better one, because the first Pride was a riot. It seems only natural that these small moments of true pride continue on in riots, as enemies morph and change over time, but passion and love prevail. And yet, I wonder—must Pride always be a riot? Why can’t June just feel good? The answers to these questions are complicated and complex, but perhaps just as important to reflect on as the parade itself.
Watching my community come together and look out for each other made me think a lot about my own role in the fight. I initially had hesitations about attending, worried about violence and suffocating crowds. But watching people sacrifice their time and safety for the greater good made me question whether there are times when the need to take a stand overshadows fear for one’s own safety? Whose bodies are we putting on the front lines? As the questions came to me, I knew deep inside that I already that the answers. Sacrifice and protest outweigh safety when you suffer either way. Instead of forcing marginalized bodies forward to do the dirty work of fighting, people with the privilege of race, class, or orientation should pull their own weight in the fight for a better future. I don’t mean this as a philosophy but as a practice, thinking of the allies like Heather Heyer, as well as countless unknown others, who have sacrificed their lives to make a genuine difference in the world.
One could ask whether Straight Pride and its counter protest have actually changed anything. It’s a valid question—if the organizers of Straight Pride wanted publicity then they definitely got it. Despite the protest, we’re still living in the same messed up world, as evidenced by a judge warning a group of protesters arrested at the march to “stay out of Boston.” They’re not even allowed to visit family in the city. At the same time, I know that I now see the world in a different light than I did before. I’ve realized how little I know of the political and social conflict at hand, even when I thought I had it all figured out. I’ve seen the extremist alt-right face to face, without their masks of polite dislike, and I know who they are. Now it’s time to take a look around and peer closer into the eyes of our neighbors. Who knows what secrets hang in the backs of their closets?
Featured image/all non-tweet image credits: Martina Taylor