I witnessed a police riot at the Boston Straight Pride Parade


Marchers and counter-protesters gathered in Boston for a "straight pride" parade which quickly turned into a police riot.  Photo by the Associated Press.

Marchers and counter-protesters gathered in Boston for a “straight pride” parade which quickly turned into a police riot. Photo by the Associated Press.

Every year, millions of LGBTQ+ folks and their allies turnout to attend various pride parades and festivals in hundreds of cities around the world. These events began to commemorate the Stonewall rebellion in 1969 and have grown to signify the increasing acceptance of queer people in everyday life. Earlier this year, over five million marchers and visitors attended WorldPride in New York City, making it the single largest pride parade ever held. One would think that a celebration of this magnitude would signal that state persecution against LGBTQ+ folks has largely ended in America; while the 1969 raid on Stonewall Inn was carried out by the NYPD, this year the police had a heavier presence than ever, providing security and even marching in the NYC parade. This only shows half the story, however, and nowhere can that be more clear than the so-called “Straight Pride Parade” in Boston last weekend. 

In early June, a group called Super Happy Fun America announced what they called a Straight Pride Parade would be held on August 31 in the middle of downtown Boston. This group presents itself as an organization dedicated to protecting free speech; however, its founders and primary organizers have clear links to the fascist Proud Boys, their paramilitary group the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, as well as far-right group Resist Marxism. These same organizers have been behind numerous far-right rallies over the past two years, and yet despite their past and clear ties to fascist organizations with histories of violence, the city approved the permit request at the end of June. In response to this, the coalition group Solidarity Against Hate-Boston organized a protest to take place on the same day along the route of the marchers and outside of City Hall Plaza where they were scheduled to rally. I was one of the protestors in attendance, and saw first-hand the violent police repression that took place in the name of “straight pride” and fascism. 

We arrived in the city a little before 11:00 a.m. and on our way to meet with the protestors at Arlington Street we passed by the staging area for the parade. Behind the police barricades we saw two floats, one with a large “2020 Trump Build the Wall” sign, and a second smaller one supporting the “straight pride flag.” Scattered throughout were many America flags, as well as a couple of Israeli and Gadsden flags. Once we got past the staging area we met up with the incredibly energetic protestors who were already chanting and singing outside of the park. The protest was itself a mini pride parade, with banners, pride flags and signs sticking up out of the crowd. There was even a marching band. In the apartment buildings across the street from the park, the windows were filled with messages of support for the protestors and for gay pride. Around 11:30 the crowd began to spread out along the sidewalk of the first leg of the parade. 

The crowd was excited, but there was clearly tension in the air in the face of the unexpectedly intense police presence. Despite the tension, the protestors remained peaceful. At exactly 12:00 the marchers stepped off, but the violence began before they had even arrived at the line of protestors. On four separate occasions between 12:00 and 12:30 the police, without any provocation, opened up the barricades that separate the road from the sidewalk and began to violently attack the peaceful protestors that were assembled there.  Mace was liberally used by the police on the crowd and protestors were grabbed at random and violently detained. This would be repeated until the parade finally arrived to the line of protestors, at which point everyone was on the move. 

The parade progressed down Boylston Street and then turned left along Tremont Street while protestors followed along on the other side of the police barricades yelling chants and heckling the marchers. The parade itself seemed to be more of a sprint than a parade, as we reached the end of the designated route by 12:45; the day, however, was just getting started. As soon as we reached the end of the parade on the western side of City Hall Plaza, we were met yet again with a heavy police presence. With batons drawn, the police again began to violently arrest protestors who were doing nothing wrong. This confrontation lasted for about ten minutes before the police withdrew. At this point, the two lines of protestors and marchers converged and marched together around to the east side of the plaza. This is where the rest of the day would play out, squished between a fascist rally on the steps of Boston City Hall on one side and the New England Holocaust Memorial on the other. 

For the next three hours, two competing demonstrations took place outside city hall. Inside the plaza, the organizers attempted to hold their rally with about 100 attendees sticking around to listen the two explicitly anti-gay speakers. Outside, on Congress Street, well over 1,000 protestors gathered to chant, sing, and attempt to drown out the fascist rally through sheer volume. During the first half hour police made some attempt to disperse the outside crowd, and at one point drove their motorcycles straight through the tightly compacted crowd, hitting several people. They blasted their sirens at full volume, but this was not enough to make the protestors leave, and they eventually pulled out. The rest of the afternoon was fairly uneventful, with songs such as “Get the F*ck Out of Our City” being sung and fringe presidential candidate Vermin Supreme heckling the fascists through a megaphone. 

The rally permit expired at 4:00 p.m., and soon after the fascists began to disperse. Likewise, the crowd of protestors had dwindled to probably a third of what it had been at the height of the rally, and those that still remained were slowly beginning to disperse as well. This is when the final and most violent confrontation began. Without warning, the police again showed up on motorcycles and began to violently try and disperse the crowd. Shortly after, a line had formed between the police and the protestors. Bike cops were brought to the front and began to hit and shove the protestors with their bicycles, while protestors were grabbed, pulled over the bike line, body slammed to the ground and arrested. To my right I saw a medic get pulled over the bikes and dragged over the concrete, while on my left another protestor was taken. Then, I felt hands on the back of my hood and shirt as two cops tried to grab me and pull me over. Luckily, I was pulled back at the last second and immediately after the cops began to mace the entire crowd.  

Over the next 20 minutes, the cops continued to march down Congress Street, grabbing anyone that got too close. On the western sidewalk, along the walls of city hall, a makeshift camp had been set up by street medics to care for those who had been maced in the eyes. As the cops advanced, they began to violently displace the medics and make arrests wherever they could as tourists watched from the other side of the street. By 4:45, traffic had resumed and you could easily have mistaken it for any other Saturday night. 

The confrontation that happened after 4:00 can only be referred to as a full blown police riots, but it was just the climax of an already intensely violent day. While the protestors made every effort to keep the counterdemonstration peaceful, the police clearly had violent intentions from the start. Although many of us find the idea of a “Straight Pride Parade” laughable, the reality of what happened on Saturday is deadly serious. The Boston Police Department operated not just as security, but as full and active partners and participants in a fascist rally, assaulting and arresting the queer protestors who dared to show up and speak out against hatred. 36 people were arrested, and several are currently facing blatantly false charges and an intense legal battle.

The violence that occurred at the Boston Straight Pride Parade does not occur in a vacuum. Queer people, especially queer people of color, are massively overrepresented in the prison population, and are at an increased risk of police violence compared to the rest of the population. We are living in a time where violence against queer people is on the rise, and are witnessing a resurgence in fascist ideology. The President of the United States and his supporters have been explicitly hostile to the LGBTQ+ community, and none of this is likely to change any time soon. The Boston Straight Pride Parade, like the Stonewall rebellion 50 years ago, is proof that the police are not on our side and are more willing to do the violent dirty-work of fascists than they are to protect queer people. We must fight for a queer liberation that goes beyond corporate sponsorships and rainbow cop cars, so that the next time the police march side by side with fascists, we can stop them in their tracks and keep our people safe. 

Zoey Turturino is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at zoey.turturino@uconn.edu.

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