Saturday’s Straight Pride Parade, hosted by a group of far-right agitators called Super Happy Fun America (SHFA), was controversial, hateful and grim. Led by John Hugo and Mark Sahady, both from Boston, SHFA announced plans for the parade in June, shortly before Boston’s annual Pride Parade. SHFA continued to court controversy over the summer by naming the alt-right political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos as “grand marshal” of the parade and filing a discrimination complaint against the city of Boston. This Saturday the group brought intimidation to the heart of Boston, taking a route almost identical to that of June’s Pride Parade.
The parade was a perversion of the Pride ethos, undoubtedly designed to take advantage of this country’s generous protections for free speech and assembly for the purpose of making LGBTQ-identifying people feel small and unwelcome.
Hateful as these demonstrators’ messages are, it was ultimately the Boston Police Department (BPD) that deployed unwarranted and unconscionable levels of force against protesters. This crowd included several Tufts students.
One Tufts student, whose name is withheld here out of concern for their safety, served as a street medic at the event. They told the Daily they splinted the wrist of an elderly woman battered by police and witnessed peaceful protesters, members of the press and bystanders subjected to jets of pepper spray. “This was a whole new level for BPD,” they told the Daily. Eyewitness video near City Hall shows Boston and State Police pepper spraying a crowd of protesters and clearly-labeled journalists as victims scream in pain. Photos from the parade show people thrown to the ground, faces pressed to the concrete, as police officers roughly arrest them.
Though Boston Mayor Martin Walsh made clear in a statement that he “[takes] any accusation of police misconduct seriously,” words cannot readily undo the damage BPD and SHFA have done in this city and by extension its surrounding communities. Hugo and Sahady, who each have histories of right-wing agitation, demonstrated how easy it is to pervert the protections which have enabled civil rights movements such as Pride and create a tinderbox which diminishes the experiences of those in the LGBTQ community. Perhaps worse, the Boston Police and Walsh’s administration have shown their readiness to pick sides rather than uphold their duty to protect the right to assembly, initiate violent altercations with demonstrators and usurp the free press in favor of a parade permit.
Both SHFA and BPD’s actions on Saturday have encouraged a climate of escalated violence and danger in our city. It is hateful for a group to gather and claim to represent a majority while appropriating the language of empowerment used by an oppressed minority in order to steal Pride. It is unacceptable for those charged with protecting civilians to lash out and target said civilians, using the power they have been afforded by the people against the people.
Tufts students were in that crowd. Of course, knowing Tufts and our activist student body, one could have guessed as much. Activism is a part of the Tufts experience, the Tufts community and a Tufts education. Standing up for our LGBTQ community and carrying a sign in protest as far-right demonstrators commandeer our language is not only moral but perfectly legal.
When BPD attacked protesters this weekend, it could have been Tufts students arrested, brutally injured or blinded. Luckily, no reports suggest this has happened to members of our student body. Nevertheless, repression by police in our city directly impacts students’ ability to fight for change, to demonstrate and to express themselves. The university has a responsibility to stand up for its students against this violence, and together we have a responsibility to stand with one another. We students have a responsibility to defend not only the rights of those in the LGBTQ community to live and express themselves peacefully, but also to defend the rights of all of us to speak up on their behalf without fear of retribution from the state.