Boston 'straight pride' parade dwarfed by large counter-protest

<span>Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

A controversial “straight pride” parade in Boston on Saturday drew more than 1,000 counter-protesters and a few hundred supporters.

The rightwing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was “grand marshal” of the event, for which a group calling itself Super Happy Fun America (SHFA) acquired a permit in June.

SHFA claimed it wished to draw attention to the straight community. Yiannopoulos, who is gay and conservative, told the crowd: “Add the S to LGBTQ!”

Guarded by hundreds of Boston police officers and berated with yells of “Nazi scum”, the rightwing group made its way to Boston city hall for a speaking program.

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Students pressed their noses against windows of Emerson College dorms, next to signs reading “Be gay” and “No need for straight pride”. The school is known for its large LGBTQ student body and inclusivity. Its president, Lee Pelton, issued a letter this week that called the march a “perversion”.

Thousands of people videotaped the marchers and exchanged chants as a float with giant letters saying “Trump built the wall” moved down the streets.

At city hall, where the 19th-century Fur Elise played on the loudspeaker, the SHFA event organizer, John Hugo, said his organization was hoping to exercise its first amendment rights and was not anti-gay. Clad in a Captain America T-shirt, he said his attire was intended to troll the actor Chris Evans, who said organizers of the parade were homophobic.

Hugo later addressed the crowd and asked for Trump supporters to raise their hands, which most did. He declared the president’s re-election would be a “shoo-in”.

Hugo criticized the Boston mayor: “Mayor Marty Walsh said there would only be 20 people here today. Look around. Not only is he intolerant, but he can’t count.”

Despite denying being anti-LGBTQ, the organization allowed several people to the mic to complain about “LGBTQ curriculums in public schools” and children being gay. People clad in Maga hats and “How can I offend you?” shirts cheered.

Some featured speakers had ties to a far-right organization, the Proud Boys, which has incited violence. Hugo’s co-organizer, Mark Sahady, was the brains behind a free speech rally in 2017 that brought a tiny group of white nationalists to Boston. He is connected to an alt-right group, Resist Marxism.

It appeared there were about 200 marchers. Counter-protesters were cordoned off but one man screamed: “Boston hates you!”

At a counter-protest called “Fight supremacy, hands off our pride” earlier in the day, a co-organizer and Black Lives Matter activist, Monica Cannon-Grant, said “straight pride” did not exist.

“Today is about us,” she said, adding the city should not have given SHFA a permit.

One black activist who gave her name as Rachel said: “We know the organizers of the so-called straight pride parade do not limit their bigotry to heterosexuality.”

Melissa Thomas, 22, drew “Love is love” on the ground in blue and lime green chalk: “I’m out here to show all people are accepted. We don’t want fascists or Nazis in our city.”

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She said she faced bullying as a bisexual young woman in her Massachusetts suburb and her LGBTQ-identifying friends were also harassed.

“No one should be subject to that,” she said.

Genevieve Rodriguez and Dan Paglia began arguing, each eventually lightly pushing the other. Paglia, gripping a “Don’t tread on me” flag, was a supporter of the straight pride parade, claiming he had been “villainized and accosted” for being straight.

He claimed to have gay family members. “But we’re just expressing our first amendment rights,” he said, denying he was racist or a white nationalist.

For Rodriguez, a queer Latina who said she had experienced anti-gay slurs and confrontations in the heavily white neighborhood of West Roxbury, the confrontation did not scare her. Instead it provided a release.

“The trauma just leaves my body,” she said. Asked whether a man like Paglia could change his ideology, she said:“I think people can choose to prioritize their own privileges.”

In this counter-protest, people drew rainbows and positive messages in chalk and danced to tunes while cheering on drag queen “JUST JP”.

Thirty-six people were arrested, most counter-protesters. There were four injured officers, police said. A spokesman declined to provide a number of officers providing security.

US Democratic congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley are urging people to donate for those people arrested. “One way to support the local LGBTQ community impacted by Boston’s white supremacist parade? Contribute to the bail fund for the activists,” they tweeted.

In one confrontation with counter-protesters, a police officer pepper-sprayed several as the group tried to obey requests to make more space. Access to “straight pride” organizers was limited; one Boston police sergeant turned some media away despite viewing press credentials.

Speakers at the SHFA event said repeatedly they planned to make it an annual event, and potentially hold some action on Christmas Day.