At Boston Pride forum, candidates talk cops at parade, loss of queer spaces

Four of the six major Boston mayoral candidates participated in a forum sponsored by Boston Pride.

Four mayoral candidates joined the Boston Pride Mayoral Forum on Monday, highlighting LGBTQ policy priorities ahead of the Sept. 14 preliminary.

The candidates who participated in the panel included John Barros, who served as City Hall’s economic development chief, state Rep. Jon Santiago, and City Councillors At-Large Annissa Essaibi George and Michelle Wu. The forum was moderated by NBC10 Boston’s Sue O’Connell.

Recent allegations against the organization Boston Pride, which sponsored the forum, overshadowed candidates’ policy pitches. Fledgling organization Trans Resistance mobilized to boycott Boston Pride for a second year, demanding an overhaul of the organization’s board of directors and alleging the nonprofit hasn’t done enough to support the Black Lives Matter movement and other racial justice initiatives.

While Acting Mayor Kim Janey and Councillor Andrea Campbell declined to participate in the event, aligning themselves with the boycott, the forum’s first line of questioning pressed for candidates’ acknowledgment of the rift within Boston Pride, whose president, Linda DeMarco, announced her departure from the organization last week.

“I want to lift up the demands for the democratization of decision-making – we need to make sure we’re centering the lived experiences of queer, trans BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of color) in Boston,” Wu said. “We need to take real action and not just cosmetic reforms.”

“In our city we have seen an organization who has not stood shoulder-to-shoulder with activists who have been pushing for people over profit. Pride belongs to the people,” she added.

During the virtual forum, candidates were asked to address barriers to food and housing security within the LGBTQ community, as well as the attrition of queer “safe spaces.”

Surviving the pandemic also proved to be an insurmountable task for some businesses, and many stalwart queer spaces, like Boston’s Ramrod bar and Machine Nightclub, shuttered in 2020 after decades of operation.

Barros detailed his plan to launch a fund to support queer entrepreneurship. “Capital is typically one of the biggest barriers to creating any kind of social space. We need to be intentional if we want to create [queer] spaces, we need to be intentional if we want to make sure there are resources,” he said.

Santiago, the South End state representative, called for streamlining City Hall’s involvement in the establishment of new businesses, and Essaibi George zeroed in on homeownership as a conduit of wealth and economic opportunity for historically marginalized populations.

The topic of police officers at Boston Pride parades also came up. Organizers with New York’s Pride Parade recently banned police from the parade after decades of welcoming them to march alongside.

Several candidates floated crowd management alternatives, including utilizing public safety volunteers or community marshals to corral parade-goers, and, with only Essaibi George dissenting, the mayoral contenders appeared to agree in dismissing the need for a uniformed police presence at the Pride parade.

“There needs to be a demilitarization of Boston Police and we need accountability when it comes to resources and spending, particularly with an overtime budget that keeps increasing at tremendous amounts and eats away at the funding available for community stabilization,” Wu said.

Asked about the New York ban, Essaibi George, who has drawn support from police officers in her run for higher office, said, “It’s important that we’re always looking for ways to limit the involvement of police in these celebrations, but to say outright that police won’t be participating I think is disingenuous.”

“We have many members of the Boston Police Department that are very proud to be gay and they have fought through many barriers to celebrate with their community,” she added. “It’s important to acknowledge and remember to also be inclusive of their experiences.”

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