Mary Malmros on Noho Pride March–Then and Now

Those who want to march with the FCCPR contingent at the Noho Pride March on Saturday, May 6, should email ASAP to sign up and get your marching credentials. Note: We are allowed a maximum of 25 marchers.

On Saturday we’ll be marching again, this time in the Northampton Pride March. For me, it will be my first Pride march in years. I was a volunteer march organizer of Northampton Pride back in the mid ‘80s, and I marched in Boston for years after I moved there. Then I stopped going to Pride marches. Frankly, the celebration got to be too much for me.

Back in the ‘80s, the Northampton Pride March was a very different event. It was much smaller, for one thing. There were no floats, no marching bands, few organized contingents – mostly just people walking along the route from the Bridge Street School to Pulaski Park. It also had a different vibe. It was a celebration in the face of visible and vocal opposition. Organizers faced foot-dragging and obstruction when getting permits. A Christian fundamentalist church from Easthampton bused in members to stand in the park at the post-march rally, separated from the crowd by a thin line of peacekeepers, and blare amplified hate-hymns at the LGBTQ people who had the temerity to walk through the streets of their own town. We had to be careful leaving the rally; we knew we were likely to be harassed at some point during the day. There were stony looks from bystanders along the march route, sometimes taunts, occasionally an attempt to attack a marcher. And there were some – not very many – who showed up in support. I remember passing a restaurant on Main Street whose nattily dressed waitstaff had all turned out to stand on the sidewalk and applaud as the marchers went by. At the time, that was an exceptional gesture.

In the decades since, as the opposition to LGBTQ rights has diminished, the celebration factor in Pride marches has amped up. Pre-parties, post-parties, costume balls, brunches, cotillions – you name it, we do it. Pride turned into a sort of Mardi Gras. And why not? Being LGBTQ has always meant being excluded from so many of the celebrations that people take for granted: homecoming dances and high school proms, workplace holiday parties, weddings. Even a date night could mean uncomfortable moments as movie patrons snickered and sneered, and maître d’s seated you at the queer table (the one just by the kitchen door, conveniently hidden by the large potted plant). Pride was the one day when we could celebrate openly, when we could walk freely. But it was never a day when we were truly free.

It’s important to remember that, even as we count up the wins that have happened over the years. In 1989, Massachusetts passed the country’s second civil rights law granting protections to LGB people (notice the absent T) in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations. In 2004, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, a ruling which has held despite numerous attempts to defeat, delay and derail it. Finally, there was the event that looms largest in most people’s mind, the 2015 US Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality. To many people (including LGBTQ people), marriage equality had become synonymous with LGBTQ civil rights, and the Obergefell decision meant that LGBTQ people had full equality. These people are shocked when they find that there is no federal law upholding the civil rights of LGBTQ people, that we have no employment protections in most US states, and even fewer protections in housing and public accommodations. Instead, we have the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act and its numerous state-level imitators, which – encouraged by the 2014 Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby — have been used to support anti-LGBTQ measures around the country, and embolden businesses and individuals to deny service to LGBTQ people on the basis of “religious freedom”. We in Massachusetts have it pretty good, but our sisters and brothers around the country aren’t doing so well. They need our help, and we need to stand up for our rights: not just in our happy Massachusetts ghetto, but throughout the country.

So I’ll be marching again on Saturday. I love a celebration as much as anything, but I also think it’s time to refocus LGBTQ Pride on LGBTQ civil rights, and the only way I can do that is to show up. There will be bands and floats and fabulous people out for a good time, there will be celebration galore – and there will also be people who are newly woke in the age of Trump, who realize that anything that someone grants you out of tolerance is not a right that you can depend on. There will be friends and family and allies who come to celebrate with us on Saturday, and to stand with us every day after that. We need to march together on Saturday, and then hold ourselves and each other accountable for what we do when the party is over.

None of us are free until all of us are free.

Mary Malmros of Charlemont has been active in women’s rights and LGBTQ rights since the 1980s. After a long, disillusioned hiatus from electoral politics, she worked on the Bernie Sanders campaign starting in 2015. She is also interested in issues of economic justice in underserved communities like those in Franklin County. She serves on FCCPR’s coordinating committee and the Civil Rights Task Force.

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