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The shame of Boston's Pride festival

July 8, 2005 | Page 6

GIVEN THAT Massachusetts is the only state in the U.S. where gay marriage is legal, one would expect the annual Gay Pride Festival in Boston to be an especially progressive and political event. This assumption could not be more incorrect.

The collapse of the gay marriage movement nationally, the retreat of the Democratic Party on the question of gay rights, and the shift of most liberal organizations to the right over the past year (as they hold steady to the coattails of the Democrats) has taken its toll on Boston Pride.

To begin with, this year's Pride march was led by a contingent from the Boston Police Department (BPD). This is the same BPD that mobilized in the hundreds to protect a white supremacist, neo-Nazi group marching in Boston several weeks ago. It is also the same BPD that organized security for bigots from Kansas who had come to Boston to protest against gay and lesbian high school students in the area--and who would have been run out of town within seconds by angry gay-rights activists if not for the BPD protection.

Even more disgusting was the fact that a contingent from the U.S. Army's Reserve Officer Training Corps was invited by the Pride organizers to join the march. This, of course, is despite the fact that the U.S. Army still refuses to let gays and lesbians serve in the military. I guess the Pride organizers failed to see the irony of this insane invitation, which would be tantamount to organizers of a civil rights demonstration inviting Trent Lott to have his own contingent.

The organizers of Pride also went to great lengths to make sure the festival afterwards was a complete fiasco. It began when I and several others from the International Socialist Organization (ISO) set up a table in the Boston Commons to talk to people about the need to keep up the fight for gay marriage, to distribute Socialist Worker--which was drawing the connection between the fight against bigotry and the fight to end the war in Iraq--and to sell fundraising t-shirts we had designed that said, "Gay Marriage: Coming to a State Near You" on the front.

One would think such clearly dedicated and determined gay-rights advocates would be welcomed at a Gay Pride Festival. The contrary was the case.

Within minutes of setting up our table, we were approached by a march organizer who told us that because we didn't purchase a vendor's permit (which costs over $750), we would have to pack up and leave the Commons. We argued that, first of all, the "Commons" was public space and therefore they had no right to kick us out; second, we're a non-profit organization and would like to inquire about a much lower fee; and third, we simply wanted to talk to people about the need to stay vigilant around the fight for gay marriage and extend the fight for gay rights. We wondered if they couldn't be a little more understanding.

The organizer responded by saying that if they didn't charge us the full fee, it would be unfair to all of the corporations--such as Verizon, Delta Airlines and Bacardi--who paid money to be there. Just because we were for gay rights didn't really matter, the organizer said, because they "had to enforce the rules equally for everyone, whether they were pro-gay or anti-gay"!

As our group was in the process of packing up to follow our expulsion orders, we apparently weren't moving fast enough for the Pride organizers--who proceeded to call members of that illustrious BPD in order to remove us from the Boston Commons!

Never mind the fact that the ISO spearheaded the recent mobilization against the Kansas bigots. Boston Pride's corporate sponsors had profits to make, and would not tolerate any obstacles to their mercantilist pursuits.

So we've come full circle on ourselves, have we? The movement that began at Stonewall in 1969, with a rebellion of gays and lesbians against police brutality and harassment of homosexual couples was now calling the cops on gay-rights activists in order make Pride safe for Verizon, Bacardi Liquor and the U.S. Army.

If anything is to be learned out of all of this, it is that the current, liberal leadership of the gay-rights movement is in absolutely no position to build a fight to extend our rights. While states across the nation are banning gay marriage, while hate crimes against gays and lesbians are on the increase in Massachusetts, and while the Democrats distance themselves even further from pro-gay politics, groups like Boston Pride and other liberal, gay-rights groups are content to keep fiddling the same old tired song to the chorus of "Take back the Congress in 2006"--as the memory of Stonewall fades further in the distance, increasing blocked from view by the BPD paddy wagons leading today's march for gay rights.
Keith Rosenthal, Boston

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