By: Keegan O’Brien*—
On May 16th it was announced that Mayor Thomas Menino had been elected Grand Marshall for the 2013 Boston Pride Parade. Boston Pride described its decision in these words: “A national leader on neighborhood issues and as a strong ally to the LGBT community, Mayor Menino believes that government is about helping people … he has spent a lifetime building a better Boston for residents and businesses. Mayor Menino has always served as a strong advocate and supporter for Boston’s LGBT community.”
When I heard the news of Pride’s Grand Marshal elections I was disappointed. On top of San Francisco Pride’s decision to rescind the naming of Bradley Manning as a Grand Marshal, it feels like Pride has taken another step away from what the first Gay Freedom Day Marches back in 1970 were all about. What began as protests for sexual and gender liberation, an end to war and militarism, and solidarity with all struggles of the oppressed seems to have become street parades, sponsored by corporate sponsors, that are more concerned with courting the respect of the political establishment rather then challenging it. [pullquote]It’s the same man who pretty much told Chik-Fil-A CEO and outspoken homophobe Dan Cathy to “f” off last summer when the company tried to set up shop in Boston. [/pullquote]
At first glance, it may seem odd for a queer activist to be critical of a politician that’s been such a public supporter of the LGBT community and its struggle for equality. This is the same Mayor Menino that supported marriage equality at a time when it was not popular to do so, when Massachusetts made history in 2003 and became the first state to legalize it. It’s the same man who pretty much told Chik-Fil-A CEO and outspoken homophobe Dan Cathy to “f” off last summer when the company tried to set up shop in Boston. Compared to the homophobia and anti-equality politics of former Massachusetts Governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Mayor Menino support for LGBT equality is definitely a breath of fresh air.
So what’s my beef? For starters, politicians don’t make history, people do. Every inch of progress the LGBTQ community has achieved in the decades since Stonewall is the result of grassroots activism, mostly by people who will never make it into the pages of history books or receive honorary titles. Too often, we are taught a narrative of history that highlights the achievements of politicians while sidelining the critically important work of grassroots activists—the people who were marching in the streets, speaking out and organizing their communities to pressure the political establishment to act. If the theme of Boston Pride this year is “Moving Forward…Proud, Strong, United” then why not pay tribute to any of the countless under recognized organizations or grassroots activists that have truly been the vehicles of social progress for our community?
Secondly, while Menino has supported efforts for marriage equality and non-discrimination laws, he has also supported or enacted policies that have had a crushing impact on sections of the LGBTQ community. This is the same Mayor Menino who supported the Boston Public Schools Committee decision in 2010 to close or merge eighteen schools, all of which were in predominantly poor communities of color. BPS’s decision produced an uproar from the community and earned them a lawsuit and federal investigation for racial discrimination. What about the queer youth of color who are now forced to attend schools that are even more overcrowded and inadequately funded? Shouldn’t they be included in our community’s vision of justice and equality?
Or how about the countless LGBTQ youth of color who are forced to live under the violence and harassment of police occupations of their neighborhoods, thanks to Mr. Menino? This summer, Menino announced his plan to put even more police on the streets in “at risk” neighborhoods, which will only result in sweeping more poor youth of color out of their communities and into the prison industrial complex, further destabilizing already traumatized communities. [pullquote]At first glance, it may seem odd for a queer activist to be critical of a politician that’s been such a public supporter of the LGBT community and its struggle for equality.[/pullquote]
Another dark spot in Mayor Menino’s 20-year history as mayor is his initial support for Boston’s participation in the “Secure Communities” program, which sought to “reduce crime” by targeting and deporting undocumented immigrants. Far from making communities safer, the program has resulted in more deportations, increased fear of the police and other public institutions, and further marginalized undocumented immigrants. While Menino has since come out to criticize certain aspects of the program, his actions helped to usher in the program to begin with. Whether it’s bullies in our high schools or police officers with a badge and gun, shouldn’t we stand up to all forms of harassment and violence experienced by those in our community?
Lastly, let’s not forget how Mayor Menino responded to Boston’s Occupy movement—a struggle that sought to highlight the economic injustices caused by Corporate America and Wall Street and provide a space for the “99%” to do something about it. He gave the order for brutal police repression. Menino had these words to justify his decision to forcibly shut down the Occupy Boston encampment, “We will tolerate demonstrations, we will tolerate expressions of free speech, but when it comes to civil disobedience we have a real issue with that … Civil disobedience doesn’t work for Boston; it doesn’t work for anyone.”
Quite a bizarre statement coming from someone who is supposed to be an advocate for LGBT equality, considering that civil disobedience has been a staple form of protest for affecting social change for our community; from the rebellion of Stonewall, to the die-ins of ACT UP and Queer Nation, to recent protests for the repeal of Prop 8 and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The Occupy movement not only employed the tactics of queer movements past, it involved many LGBTQ folks, and focused on economic issues which directly effect working class queers; home foreclosures, unemployment, student debt, and growing class inequality.
Menino’s repression of the Occupy movement and his support for racist policies should be important factors in how we evaluate him as an advocate and ally for the LGBTQ community. Equality for LGBTQ people means little if it doesn’t include social and economic justice for all of our community, including undocumented immigrants, communities of color, working class families and the poor. If we broaden our scope of social justice and equality and focus on the contributions of activists, not just politicians, it becomes clear that there are plenty of people who are more far deserving of recognition for their contributions to the LGBTQ community and its long struggle for justice then another straight, white, cysgender man. Boston Pride deserves a better Grand Marshal than Mayor Thomas Menino.
*Keegan O’Brien is a long time LGBTQ youth activist in Boston, anti-war organizer, a student at UMass Boston, a former board member of BAGLY, and member of the International Socialist Organization in Boston. He also has written extensively on LGBTQ social justice websites.