BOSTON - The biggest Pride parade in New England returned to Boston on Saturday after a three-year hiatus, with a fresh focus on social justice and inclusion rather than corporate backing.
Marchers cheered, danced and held signs representing various causes during the two-hour event, while people along the sidelines cheered back. About 10,000 marchers signed up before registration was shut down, according to organizers.
Mason Dunn, 37, of Tewksbury, Massachusetts, said the crowd was diverse: "All different gender identities, all different race, ethnicity, age, ability. We're seeing a really great representation."
Some participants memorialized transgender people who died because of bias or hate in the U.S. by carrying signs with one of their names in the parade, Dunn said.
Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey, one of the nation's first two openly lesbian governors, said ahead of the parade that she was excited to participate.
"This is a particularly special one to be marching in this year and at this time where we see states and some governors going backward, taking away equality, taking away freedoms, demonizing members of the LGBTQ community, hurting them, banning books, banning shows, banning access to even health care," Healey said.
"I am grateful for a lot of people who went before me who made my run and election possible," Healey said at the parade. "And we're in a different time right now, yes, there is still discrimination, and we need to address it. But I find it incredibly moving. So many people put me on their back, eight years ago, and helped me get elected attorney general, and helped me become governor."
The parade's return came amid growing hostility to LGBTQ+ people in parts of the country. Some states have limited drag shows, restricted gender-affirming medical care and banned school library books for their LGBTQ+ content.
Though Boston's parade happened the second weekend of Pride Month, many other large cities - including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Denver and Minneapolis - hold their main marches on the last weekend of June. Some cities host their events throughout the month or even at other times of the year. In Italy, Rome also held its annual Pride parade Saturday.
Saturday was Boston's first Pride parade since 2019. The hiatus began with COVID-19 but extended through 2022 because the organization that used to run the event, Boston Pride, dissolved in 2021 under criticism that it excluded racial minorities and transgender people.
"There's gaps in how folks felt included and felt apart of what we're creating, so we're bridging those gaps, there aren't gaps in our community anymore, and bringing it back, bringing back what Pride started as and what we're building on," said Adrianna Boykin, the President of Boston Pride for the People.
Boston Pride for the People, the new group formed to plan Boston's parade, came together last September to create a more inclusive, less corporate festival, said Jo Trigilio, vice president of Boston Pride for the People.
Despite being the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, Massachusetts isn't immune to attacks on LGBTQ+ people, according to Janson Wu, executive director of GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, or GLAD.
He pointed to protests targeting drag shows and harassment against children's hospitals and physicians that provide gender-affirming health care.
"The return of Boston Pride with new and grassroots leadership is incredibly important, especially now with rising attacks against the LGBTQ community," Wu said.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, a Democrat, welcomed the parade's return, saying it's important for Massachusetts and Boston to be "a bulwark on the frontlines in a moment of rising hate."
"Boston is a city for everyone," said Wu. "We are taking every step to make sure that that is true."
Neon Calypso, 30, a Boston drag queen and trans woman of color who performed Tina Turner's "Proud Mary" at a Statehouse raising of the Pride flag Wednesday, said she's baffled by those trying to marginalize drag performers.
"It's unfortunate that there are states and politicians that people empower that see something that's so welcoming and accepting as something that's negative," she said. "A lot of those people who are protesting the shows, if they went, they would actually see that it's not what they say."
One of the oldest Pride events in the country, this year's parade traveled a bit shorter route than in past years, beginning at Copley Square and ending at Boston Common with a festival for families, teens and older community members. A second event for the over-21 crowd was planned at City Hall Plaza with alcohol, a disc jockey and dancing.
Boston Pride for the People focuses on empowerment, celebration, commemoration and education, and seeks to counter Pride parades and celebrations nationwide that have become too commercial and too focused on appealing to people with privilege, said Trigilio, who uses the pronouns they and them.
"The more you have corporations involved, the more they are looking for money and that caters to the privileged," they added. "When you have a Pride that is too commercial, it becomes a party and you lose the social justice aspect to it."
They said Boston Pride for the People reviewed corporate funders using a number of criteria, including whether they donated to anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers.
Employee groups were welcome to march, but corporations weren't.
"We really did start by looking forward to how we could best serve the LGBTQ community in greater Boston and really all across New England," Trigilio said.
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