By: Al Gentile/TRT Reporter & Mike Givens/TRT Assistant Editor—
On Saturday, June 10, at the corner of Fairfield and Boylston streets in Boston, more than 100 demonstrators challenged the inclusivity and fairness of Boston Pride’s long-standing Pride parade, an event that garners thousands of marchers and observers.
“Stand up, fight back!” chanted the Stonewall Warriors, a grassroots organization that alleges Boston Pride has been co-opted by corporations and elected officials.
In their advocacy, the Stonewall Warriors invoke the sentiments of the 1969 Stonewall Riots —the genesis of Pride demonstrations and celebrations around the world. According to Diva T. Williams, the Stonewall Warriors’ marching position towards the back of the June 10 parade was unacceptable.
“The Stonewall Warriors are here to bring Pride back to its roots. The Stonewall Riot was a riot against police brutality [of] black and Latinx queer people,” she said. “It’s been hijacked by mostly cisgender white men and turned into this commercial circus. Anyone with a political or radical message is segregated to the back of the parade.”
The corporate sponsors who participated in the parade include TD Bank, Liberty Mutual, Delta Airlines, and Bank of America, among many others. According to several people participating in the Stonewall Warrior’s contingent of the parade, these corporations have no place in Pride.
“Having TD Bank and all these other huge corporations that are invested in pipelines and all kinds of terrible things come out with their logo on a rainbow flag … has nothing to do with protecting marginalized people,” she continued. “It has nothing to do with uplifting marginalized people. It has nothing to do with anything.”
Mark Crandall, TD Bank’s regional president for Southern New England, said the company’s participation upholds its core values.
“TD Bank is proud to support Boston Pride as [a] Gold sponsor. We feel Boston Pride—and all of the 30-plus Pride events we support across our Maine-to-Florida footprint—is an opportunity to celebrate diversity, inclusion and love within our own community,” he said. “As an employer, and good corporate and community citizen, we cultivate a service-oriented, barrier-free culture that attracts, invests in, and promotes talent that reflects the diverse communities we serve.
“Sponsorships are not just about marketing; we carefully choose the events and causes that we sponsor to reflect and embrace the diversity of our customers and communities.”
Yet, the investment practices of TD Bank, and several other sponsors, raise questions about the values of the companies.
TD Asset Management, according to NASDAQ, invests in several companies, which many argue would disqualify the company as a “good corporate and community citizen.”
The company invests nearly $300 million in Exxon Mobil, a company with a history of institutional discrimination against LGBTQ people, according to a CNN.
Matthew Doherty, manager of corporate communications and public affairs for TD Bank, declined to comment on whether these investment practices conflicted with Crandall’s statement about being a good corporate citizen.
Adrianne Kaufmann, a senior public relations consultant for Liberty Mutual, maintained that the insurance company’s participation in Pride is part of a fundamental commitment to dignity and respect for all people.
“As a strong corporate supporter of LGBTQ community events and organizations across the country, sponsorship of our [email protected] employee resource group, who are marching in the Boston Pride Parade, embodies this principle and demonstrates our belief that we are all stronger by standing together,” Kaufmann said.
Liberty Mutual, a Platinum Sponsor of Pride, invests about $18 million in Exxon Mobil as well as about $11 million in Energy Transfer Partners, which is building the Dakota Access Pipeline, and more than $5 million in TransCanada, which is constructing the Keystone Pipeline. Both projects have elicited public protests from Native American and environmental activists over concerns that the pipelines could contaminate drinking water.
Liberty Mutual has also invested $2 million each in GEO Group and CoreCivic, both of which are operators of privatized prisons. Both groups have been accused of civil rights violations. GEO Group, the largest private prison operator in the nation, has recently been accused of illegally funding a super-PAC supporting Donald Trump in 2016, according to a recent Mother Jones story. It is illegal for any company like GEO Group, which contracts with the U.S. government to house federal prisoners, to make donations to political campaigns.
Kaufmann, a senior public relations consultant for Liberty Mutual, did not respond to The Rainbow Times’ request for comment on the company’s investment practices.
Boston Pride President Sylvain Bruni said sponsorships from large corporations are required for an event the size of Boston Pride. This year’s Pride celebration, he said at a press briefing, is the largest Boston Pride celebration to date.
Even with the large corporate sponsors, Bruni said, the vast majority of Pride’s sponsors are small businesses and nonprofit organizations. However, BP took in approximately $348K alone through major donations, according to their 2017 Partnership Packet and the donor’s list that appears on its website.
“Having corporate sponsors is a necessity for any organization of this size,” Bruni told The Rainbow Times. “As you can see, in the parade today over 70 percent of contingents are not businesses, and out of the 30 percent that are businesses, I believe 15 percent are small businesses that are LGBT-owned or are part of the fabric of our community. If you look at this all-in-all, the corporations are not the vast majority of Pride.”
Bruni refused to comment on the questionable investment practices.
“We have responded to your inquiries with a statement last Friday and at the Parade on Saturday, and have no further information to provide,” Bruni said on June 16.
Christine Allsopp, a Stonewall Warriors organizer who identifies as non-binary, contends that corporations and law enforcement have no place in Pride whatsoever.
“Those sponsorships really sully the memory of what those people did for our rights, for my rights,” Allsopp said. “Regardless of how many there are or what percentage of them are in the parade, it still sullies the memory … the grassroots movement that started it being put in the back of the parade is nothing short of a disgrace.”
Williams said Pride has been overrun by political and corporate interests. Elected officials, she said, are only at Pride to pay lip service to various communities and garner votes as opposed to launching any real action for LGBTQ communities.
“Stonewall was a riot, and as ugly as the word ‘riot’ sounds, everybody’s favorite non-violent activist Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘A riot is the language of the unheard’,” WIlliams said. “All we’re hearing is banks, fast food joints, artisanal ice cream stands, and everybody who’s running for a political position, we are unheard.”
Nathan Heathman, a black and indigenous person who identifies as two-spirit, said Pride was originally a political statement for queer and transgender people of color, also known as QTPoC.
Pride was in many ways a working-class movement, yet nowadays, Heathman said, the radical politics which made up the basis of Pride have been largely lost.
“This was originally something for the QTPoC community,” Heathman said. “It was very much just a community-oriented working-class type of thing, and it’s gotten co-opted by politicians and corporations, and all kinds of people who don’t understand the roots of the movement. It hasn’t become as much of a political statement, as much as a parade.”
At the heart of it, Bruni said Boston Pride is an organization whose doors are always open to all people. The concerns of the Stonewall Warriors, he said, are not the fault of Boston Pride.
“One thing that Boston Pride always says is the door is open. We are always ready to discuss with people. If there are any concerns, our meetings are open to the public. Now, if they don’t come, that’s their choice,” Bruni said. “I’m at every single meeting, and I’ve never seen them.”
But other community leaders don’t see it that way.
“While Boston Pride claims to have an ‘open door policy,’ they have refused to meet the clear demands made by those who interrupted Pride last year and those who came in again this year,” said Reverend Jason Lydon, executive director of LGBTQ prison abolitionist group Black and Pink. “Additionally, it is not the responsibility of people of color and other marginalized communities to always be the ones to educate the dominant group. If Boston Pride wants to create a celebration that lifts up those most affected by oppression, then they need to do so with an intersectional analysis.”
Gery Armsby, a transgender man and one of the organizers of the protest, said he had several conversations with Bruni concerning the festivities. Regardless of the demands made or Boston Pride’s response, Armsby said the protest was more about bringing Pride festivities to their historic roots.
“We wanted to protest at Pride regardless of what their response would be,” Armsby said. “We are opening up a spirit of protest at Pride.”
According to Lydon, Boston Pride organizers need to be more responsive to previous demands for inclusiveness in the festivities prior to any participation in meetings.
“Black and Pink does not attend the meetings because we expect Boston Pride volunteers to respond to the demands for change first, to create a welcoming environment, to disinvite police from marching, and to ensure that our communities feel celebrated during the parade and throughout the week of events,” he said.
Lydon said he also felt that corporate sponsorships are overshadowing the true spirit of Boston Pride.
“The corporate sponsorship is part of a larger effort to erase our history of radical vision and ignore the needs of LGBTQ people today who are targeted by racist violence, policing, economic exploitation, and ableist exclusion,” he said.
Bruni, however, said that there is a practical reason for allowing corporate sponsors.
“Some of our sponsors, including major corporations, have been with us for more than a decade and were willing to speak out in support of our community long before it was considered the socially expedient thing to do,” he said. “The higher entry fees paid by corporations to participate in the Boston Pride Parade allow Boston Pride to maintain low entry fees for nonprofits and grassroots groups, even reduced from year’s past, despite the sustained increase in costs. The sponsorship revenue collected by Boston Pride ensures that the Pride Concert remains totally free and open to everyone in the community regardless of means.
“Boston Pride is one of the very few large Pride celebrations to have a free concert. Similarly, the revenue from sponsors enables Boston Pride to create new programs that address the specific needs of parts of our community [like] Black Pride, Latinx Pride, Youth Pride, and Pride Arts and allow[s] us to redirect monies to the Community Fund, which sponsors a large number of grassroots community organizations.
“Finally, corporate revenue will allow Boston Pride to grow as an organization … as our City’s celebrations keep getting larger.”
Regardless of the politics, Gabrielle Aquino, a teary-eyed Latina pansexual woman attending the demonstration, said she was overwhelmed with emotion at her first Pride parade knowing that groups like the Stonewall Warriors were willing to advocate for marginalized people.
“I’m just so grateful there are people who are willing to put themselves on the line for people like me, people like my friends,” she said.
Pride Pageant Problems
On the evening of Monday, June 12, Jennifer Whitney Hudson, a black trans woman, posted a nearly 30-minute video on Facebook angrily condemning Boston Pride for what she considered to be transphobic, racist, and offensive treatment by people volunteering with the organization.
“I just want to say that I am so [expletive] heartbroken by the way the gay community has been treating me and how Boston Pride has been treating me,” she tearfully says at the outset of the Facebook Live video, which has been viewed more than 2,000 times. “It is completely and utterly disgusting that they would do the kind of [expletive] they are doing.”
Hudson then goes on to list a litany of allegations against Boston Pride. Referring to its festivities as “whitewashed.” Hudson, who said that she won the title of Ms. Boston Pride 2017, was told that she could not mention recent negative comments made about Boston Pride or allegations of racism, transphobia, and exclusion that have been lobbed at the organization for years in her acceptance speech.
“They didn’t want me to say anything wrong about them, yet they are doing everything wrong,” she said, referring to an alleged incident in which Boston Pride shared an offensive story on its Facebook page about transgender people and gay men.
Bruni’s response to Hudson’s comments contradicted her claims.
“Boston Pride does not censor anyone,” Bruni said. “We have no further comment to make about her video. Of course she has the right to say whatever she wants on her Facebook page.”
In an interview with The Rainbow Times Hudson said that when she first won the Ms. Boston Pride 2017 pageant, she saw it as an opportunity to positively represent the trans and people of color communities. Within days, however, she said things quickly devolved.
“All of the winners of the pageant were specifically told that we cannot say anything around race or the … [accusations] around [Boston Pride] being transphobic,” she said, noting that she was told this by two separate people not to speak on recent accusations made against Boston Pride.
The Rainbow Times attempted to interview the people Hudson identified in her video, but the requests were either declined or did not receive a response.
An International Issue
In 2015, the Boston Pride Parade was interrupted by a group of advocates calling themselves #WickedPissed. For 11 minutes, one minute for each transgender woman of color murdered in the United States in the first six months of the year, the group stopped the parade route at the intersection of Boylston and Charles Streets to bring attention to the marginalization and oppression of people of color, transgender people, and other disenfranchised groups under the LGBTQ umbrella. Though the demonstration was a success with regards to temporarily halting the parade and surfacing the issues, the protest had little long-term impact.
In 2016, Boston Pride came under fire again when it appointed Woburn police officer Anthony Imperioso as a Parade marshal. Imperioso had reportedly made several inflammatory comments about Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters on his Facebook page and activists swiftly started a campaign to have his marshalship withdrawn. Boston Pride eventually withdrew his marshalship.
Pride parade demonstrations are not localized to Boston, however.
In June of 2015, the Chicago chapter of BLM, a national movement for police accountability organized by LGBTQ people of color, shut down Chicago Pride for 10 minutes to call attention to injustices happening to LGBTQ people of color in the city.
Last June, the Oakland, Calif. chapter of BLM withdrew as grand marshal of the San Francisco Pride Parade after finding out parade organizers had requested an increase in police presence at the event. The parade was just a week after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando that took the lives of 49 people, mostly queer and Latinx.
Also last June, the Toronto chapter of BLM, after being invited by the local Pride committee to be an honorary guest in the parade, shut down festivities along the parade route for nearly 30 minutes with a nine-point list of demands. Demands included requests for increased diversity in Pride staff, more culturally competent services and support for those with disabilities, the removal of a police presence from the parade, and a town-hall style meeting where Pride staff would announce an action plan to address BLM’s concerns. Pride organizers relented after the demonstration had severely stalled the parade.
The Toronto protest caused an uproar and controversy further ensued when Pride president Mathieu Chantelois publicly reneged on his promise to acquiesce to demonstrator’s demands just a few days later. Eventually, Toronto Pride agreed to most of the conditions, including the removal of a police presence from Pride festivities. The move caused public sparring between Toronto Pride and the local police and a few elected officials. Chantelois stepped down from his position in August amid allegations of abusive behavior and harassment of the Toronto Pride staff.
The BLM Toronto chapter missed the May 20 deadline to march in this year’s Toronto Pride march. BLM did not release a statement on why it missed the deadline and Pride organizers said that as far as they were concerned, there is no further conflict between the two organizations.
On the same day as the Stonewall Warriors’ protest at Boston Pride, a group calling itself “No Justice No Pride” staged a similar protest at the Pride parade in Washington D.C. with demands for more inclusivity and less of a corporate presence. Organizers of Pride parades in New York and San Francisco, both being held on June 25, have pledged to integrate political protests and calls to action into the celebratory nature of the festivities and have publicly agreed to allow more politicized groups to march in the front of the parades.
Back in Boston, Lydon of Black and Pink said that Boston Pride can realize full inclusivity by listening to and implementing concerns about staying true to Pride’s roots.
“Boston Pride should meet all the demands made by those who have been forced to interrupt Pride in order to be heard,” he said. “Boston Pride needs to make marching in the parade free. Boston Pride needs to celebrate and lift up the stories of more marginalized LGBTQ communities.
“Boston Pride should never allow police or sheriffs to march in the parade. Boston Pride should create a set of standards, created with large community input, about which politicians are allowed to march. We should not be lifting up politicians who have exploited our communities or politicians who continue to make careers off of targeting people of color and poor people.”
Side Note: Through the years, The Rainbow Times has also produced multiple independent projects, like the New England Pride Guide and the New England Pride Map. Such pieces, the stories and calendar items contained within them (from 2015 on) have always included coverage and mentions of most Boston Pride events, parade route, entertainment lineup & emcee coverage, etc. Below appears a list of stories, op-ed’s, releases and PR pieces that The Rainbow Times has published about the organization since 2015 (most recent listed first):
What Does Boston Pride Say? New England Pride Guide Piece Pushing Entertainment & Emcee (p.18)
New England Pride Calendar: Editor’s Picks (Many BP Events, (Pp. 22-23)