On August 31 2019, the streets of downtown Boston could have easily been mistaken for Christopher Street 50 years ago during the Stonewall Rebellion, save for the more militarized weapons of the police and the more vibrant hair colors of the queer and trans people they were mercilessly beating and throwing to the pavement. Police clad in riot gear stood toe to toe with unarmed drag queens, anti-fascists and activists of all ages draped in rainbow and transgender pride flags, shouting chants of “who do you protect, who do you serve?” and “bottoms and tops, we all hate cops.”
Earlier this year, right wing hate groups in Boston made national headlines for announcing a “Straight Pride” parade in response to Pride 2019. The announcement was met with immediate international outrage and two counter-protests were planned. Between both demonstrations, thousands of members of the Boston LGBTQ+ community and their supporters made it clear that Boston would not fall for the tricks of bigots and fascists.
This response did not go unanticipated by the Boston Police, who used the paper-thin charade of “maintaining order” to violently target activists while actively protecting and escorting the racist, sexist, transphobic and homophobic “Straight Pride” attendees.
The city government spared no expense to protect the bigots. The official headcount of police was around 4,000, including heavily armored state police, bomb squad and FBI presence. Armored military-grade vehicles lined the streets and six MBTA buses full of state troopers in riot gear took up the back of the parade, unloading at Government Center.
These militarized forces viewed peaceful counter-protesters as a threat and downtown Boston as a warzone. Long before the “Straight Pride” parade converged with the counter-protest, police suddenly broke through their own barricades and arrested multiple counter-protesters, completely unprovoked. Others reported emergency street medics having their equipment stolen under accusations of “bomb threats.” Many more reported random, unprompted beatings and assaults with pepper spray. In total, thirty-six people were arrested; two from the “Straight Pride” parade and 34 peaceful counter-demonstrators, including press and street medics.
Liberation News talked with Mae, a street medic who “had to splint a broken wrist and help treat around fifteen people who were maced, over the course of the day.” They emphasized that the violence escalated later in the afternoon after the parade had ended, when police began using their motorcycles to push counter-protesters out of Government Center.
“They arrested a medic who was trying to de-escalate the situation,” Mae added, “and then began pushing forward aggressively and started macing people. Antifa, press, medics — and even some fascists — got pepper sprayed; my medic buddy and I both got a bunch on our arms as we rushed in to treat patients just feet away from cops. We were forced to repeatedly and simultaneously treat and evacuate patients who were blinded and stumbling as cops kept pushing us all the way to State Street. I remember clearly flushing someone’s eyes as my buddy and I each grabbed an elbow and escorted them to safety with a line of militarized cops just 10 feet behind us. At the end of the action you were either a cop, a medic or maced.”
Another counter-protester named K described how “there were so many of us [counter-protesters] so we didn’t have many places to go… [the police] were blocking us in. I went over to observe what was happening as they arrested some protesters who seemed to be doing nothing wrong. It’s all a little blurry from there but people started chanting and the police started shoving us with bikes.” It was once protesters were trapped that the police became more aggressive. “At some point an officer dropped his pepper spray and one of them started shoving and throwing punches. I screamed at them to stop but one of them grabbed me by my left arm and threw me to another officer who swung me onto the ground. One of them maced me as I lay there. I don’t really remember much after; I was screaming at them not to hurt me and that I didn’t do anything. My hands were raised above my head and then some other protesters grabbed me and pulled me away. My whole body was in pain.” K made it to safety with the help of street medics tending to injured protesters, but the ordeal was not without injury. They reported having heavy bruising as well as a medically diagnosed concussion.
Despite this obvious police repression, main-stream media outlets have portrayed the day’s events as generally subdued, describing a “relatively low level of confrontations” between protesters and counter-protesters compared to previous events. This framing is highly misleading. Although there were few confrontations between protesters and counter-protesters, the event wasn’t subdued at all — rather, the police were the primary perpetrators of violence.
The police went to extreme lengths to guide, defend and uphold the hate rally from the beginning, and came prepared to use excessive force against peaceful protesters. While this draconian state violence is being downplayed by corporate media in the United States, the same media often uses confrontations between protesters and police internationally to stoke tensions for regime change.
The organizers of the “Straight Pride” march have gone to great lengths to portray themselves as harmless and reasonable. They coalesced under the banner of an organization called “Super Happy Fun America” and have co-opted progressive buzzwords like “social justice.” In reality, these people have been committed fascist organizers for years. Many of them are involved with the notorious right-wing hate group Resist Marxism, and others have ties to the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, two other far-right groups. Their “friendly” re-branding, often interpreted as an attempt to “troll” leftists, is actually a dangerous trap designed to draw politically underdeveloped individuals into their sphere of influence. From “All Lives Matter” to “Straight Pride,” fascist organizers use this language to smuggle a broader ideology of hate into the mainstream.
The event was never about “Straight Pride.” This was made clear by the massive “Trump 2020” float, MAGA hats, anti-immigrant rhetoric and Israeli flags donned by marchers. Signs and t-shirts read “build the wall,” “drain the swamp,” “secure our borders,” “straight lives matter,” “make normalcy normal again,” and “socialism is for f******.” “Straight Pride” was joined by Milo Yiannopoulos, an infamous right wing personality who used to write for the alt-right publication Breitbart. Other representatives like Dr. Felecia Nace (the chair of their “Science Advisory Board”) have built their entire careers on transphobic studies.
The slogan of “Straight Pride” completely dismisses the long history of injustice and heroic resistance in the LGBTQ community. Pride has a much deeper significance for LGBTQ people because it was birthed from struggle against inequality. More than just a party, it is a celebration of how far the LGBTQ liberation movement has come and a reminder of how much more work must be done. Straight people, however, have never been marginalized or forced to struggle for basic human rights based on that aspect of their lives.
The people of Boston made it clear to the fascists that their disgusting ideology of hatred and division are rejected by the overwhelming majority. The police, on the other hand, once again demonstrated their willingness to employ violence to defend injustice.
Donate to the legal defense fund for the counter-protest here.