Op-Ed: Why I’m Disappointed Mayor Menino is Boston Pride’s Grand Marshall

Boston Mayor & LGBT Ally Thomas Menino
Photo: TRT/Sean Sullivan

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Boston Mayor & LGBT Ally Thomas Menino  Photo: TRT/Sean Sullivan

Boston Mayor & LGBT Ally Thomas Menino
Photo: TRT/Sean Sullivan

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.

8 Comments on "Op-Ed: Why I’m Disappointed Mayor Menino is Boston Pride’s Grand Marshall"

  1. Are you kidding me? This article is horseshit. We as a community are evolving. Not everything is about fighting and making an uproar in life. I bet if they gave the position to Ellen you’d find a beef with it. Get off of your angry pedestal and focus on the good that it brings. We are moving forward together.

    Furthermore, you talk about sexual liberation. This so called liberation has done more harm to the community which has in many ways defined itself in terms of the commercialization of sex and desire. That “Sexual Liberation” you speak of has done more to fuel the anti-gay sentiment than anything else. It should not be about the act but about the feelings of love and being able to express who we love and wish be with.

    The occupy movement, although in theory made sense, was one of the most disorganized ridiculous displays. If it had any teeth it would have had the effects it intended to.

    The mayors job is to keep peace while protecting the rights of all people in the city. Mayor Menino has done just that. He deserves to be Grand Marshall and I am proud to say that I support him.

    • Yeah, how dare queers be transgressive? We better form nuclear families and hide our differences; because rights are granted by the ruling class for good behavior, not demanded by the oppressed on the grounds of humanity and equality.

    • Completely agree. Taking into account the progress that we’ve made with LGBT rights, you still decide to nitpick everything. I totally respect the writers opinion, but I feel like nothing will ever appease you..

    • Christopher | June 11, 2013 at 1:30 am |

      I meant to reply here to you, Rob. See my reply below. I agree with your point. Disagree with Erica’s and Chris.

  2. Excellent piece! As a genderqueer person who rarely feels represented by politicians (or mainstream Pride in general) I really appreciate seeing this perspective in the Rainbow Times. Thank you.

  3. Hi Keegan,

    I found your article well written! I disagree with Rob in what seemed as a personal attack on you and a total lack of respect for your opinion! I feel as though you also praised Mayor Menino for his contributions to the LGBT community of Boston while honestly stating your reasons for your disappointment! As a Stonewall Veteran I would like to remind Rob that if on June 28th, 1969 we hadn’t fought back he wouldn’t be enjoying the freedoms to openly love and marry those we love today! Many of us that were there that night have dedicated our lives advocating and lobbying for full equality and I would like to remind Rob of the millions of LGBT Americans living in States that do not offer these same benifits as Massachusetts and of the millions who are living in countries where it is a crime punishable by imprisonment or a death sentence to be LGBT! I would also like to remind him that prior to Stonewall we were arrested and imprisoned or put away in mental institutions. Rob, do you just sit back and enjoy the benifits or do you actively lobby for full equal rights for all Americans?

  4. Christopher | June 11, 2013 at 1:27 am |

    Hi Rob, I agree with your view, but would not word it exactly that way. I think Keegan, by his constant posts on Rainbow Times facebook page and now the Socialist web, show that he is very biased against Mayor Menino. Like Allison says here, nothing will ever appease this guy. He’s out to put down, diminish and hurt a human being. He wants to crucify mayor Menino because he just didn’t do a few things “his way”. Why don’t you run for Mayor and see how it works for you. Come on, run for office and show us how you’ll do better. I beg to differ that you’ll be able to do it. This is now an attack on the good Mayor and I feel quite insulted by it. I’d like the Times to really erase your post. I heard from other sources that they won’t censor the opinions of some, whom like you, are never satisfied with anything, other than your groupie’s doings. This is so low that I really think that your plan to get it all over the place is not working, which is why you continue to plaster it all over the web. Hatred, malicious words written with the intent to harm a man who’s been mostly good to our community doesn’t make you a hero. It makes you a dissenter with a weak argument who wants it to go his way or the highway. Just know your words are not reaching the people who love and support this mayor and his actions in favor of the glbt community. It’s sad that you feel it somewhat sickeningly empowering to use your freedom of speech to demean him. I’m using mine to let you know what I think of your story and your bullying. You can call it beef, upset, or something else but it all boils down to bullying. In my book that’s all you did.

  5. Bobby Frankenhauser | June 11, 2013 at 1:31 am |

    Are you kidding me? What do you expect? Perfection? I know personally that Mayor Menino has specifically reached out to communities of color. It is even documented in many articles and by organizational leaders themselves. It seems to me like you are on a mission to tear apart even the best allies that our community has. In my 39 years as a Boston resident, I have not seen another ally in public office who is as outspoken and as fierce an advocate as Menino. Honestly, you sound like a spoiled child who through marxist “activism” and in an effrot of trying to make the community better, you are actually dividing it. Lastly, I find this piece to be cowardly. You wait until Menino leaves office to voice these opinions, let alone right before Boston Pride. Classy.

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