Last month, Boston Pride’s new Human Rights & Education Committee made a stop in Northampton on its statewide Community Forum Road Tour.
The forum, held at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence, drew LGBT people from around – and beyond – the Pioneer Valley. Attendees came to hear about the new committee and its mission, as well as to talk to representatives of one of the country’s largest LGBT Pride organizations about human rights issues.
Each year, Boston Pride organizes a Pride Week that includes a variety of events, including the parade and festival for which the organization is best known. Yet Boston Pride is more than the parade; in fact, even the parade is more than a parade.
“It’s not just a parade. It’s a march – and it’s important,” said Linda DeMarco, Board President of Boston Pride.
Boston Pride is active year-round producing events and collaborating with other organizations. The Human Rights and Education Committee is one manifestation of a 365-day focus.
“This is a committee that can do things throughout the year,” said Steve Auger, a member of the Committee.
According to the Boston Pride website, the Committee’s purpose is to advocate for social justice by “disseminating news, promoting dialogue, and mobilizing people to take action on issues of local, national and global significance.” To that end, the committee took to the road to get feedback from LGBT communities around the state. Its first Community Forum was held in November. The Northampton forum, co-sponsored by the LGBT Coalition and the Unitarian Society’s Big Ol’ Gay Committee, was the first to take place in Western Massachusetts.
“What can the Human Rights & Education Committee do for the community?” asked Steve Auger.
Attendees had no shortage of answers. Many ideas generated by attendees focused on using Boston’s Pride Week to reach a broader audience. The crowds and media coverage drawn by Boston Pride make it an ideal opportunity to spotlight human rights issues.
One way to do that would be to hold an LGBT-focused human-rights conference in conjunction with Pride Week.
William Urich, chair of Human Rights for InterPride (the International Association of LGBTI Pride Organizers), said Pride events in the U.S. differ from many in Europe and South America. In those places, he explained, “you don’t have a pride event without a human-rights conference.”
“The single more important thing any pride can do is educate,” said Urich.
The Committee members expressed interest in putting together such a conference, possibly in collaboration with other community organization. They said it would not happen in time for Boston Pride 2012, but they would consider it for the future.
Another suggestion proposed having a politically-themed play to offer both entertainment and education.
The Committee has a wide array of human rights issues to tackle, yet prioritizing them is complicated. One attendee of the Northampton forum talked about how different intersections of identity may result in different human-rights priorities.
“If someone stares at me,” she explained, “is it because I’m black? Is it because they think I’m a lesbian?”
For her, as a gay African-American single mother, she explained that racial equality might be her first concern, while for a white lesbian, sexual orientation might take priority.
One specific issue raised in the forum was the need for a change in federal asylum policy. Currently, asylum may be granted to people who fear serious persecution, such as a threat to their life. Some would like to see asylum granted to people who face forced heterosexual marriage, which may amount to rape.
At the same time, one attendee felt strongly that people need to move away from thinking of human rights as an international issue.
“Human rights are not just an international issue. It is something that happens here. It is something that happens in our own backyards.”
“We’ve fallen into a little bit of complacency, especially in Massachusetts,” said Andrea Egitto. “I have no problem walking downtown holding my wife’s hand, but even here in Northampton there are kids afraid to come out.”
In the coming months, the Human Rights & Education Committee will continue its road tour with forums in the South Shore and in the Boston area. The Committee is seeking new members from across the state.
For more information about Boston Pride’s Human Rights and Education Committee, visit www.bostonpride.org/humanrights.