WHEN A GROUP of men, during LGBT Pride Month, recently sought a permit to hold “Straight Pride” in Boston, it was nearly universally mocked. The idea garnered comments from across social media, from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and even Captain America himself.
This state prides itself on its progressive values. Massachusetts serves as one of the strongest states in resistance against the Trump administration, where he has one of the lowest approval ratings in the country and lost every county in the 2016 election. Academics, activists and, elected leaders frequently make a point to highlight this state’s leadership on issues of social justice from abolition, abortion, and access to health care to equal marriage.
A cursory search of the “Straight Pride” leaders would reveal deep ties to the alt-right and allegations of connections to organizations considered hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, such as Resist Marxism, Patriot Front, American Guard, Patriot Prayer, and Proud Boys, to name a few. The leader of this current project was the same mastermind behind the 2017 Boston “Free Speech Rally” in which thousands counter protested the less than 50 people who attended.
It’s easy for most to see how anti-LGBT rhetoric is bolstered by the Trump administration. Massachusetts residents, generally, are against the ban on transgender troops serving in the military, the denial of health care to the LGBT community, discrimination in housing, the ban on LGBT families adopting children and the appointment of federal judges who have been hostile to the LGBT community. These and more policies continue to put our community on the defense.
What is often less clear to Massachusetts residents is why these white supremacist leaders, who are now using LGBT pride as a cover, continue to organize in this state. The truth may hurt.
It could be because of inspiration from Scott Lively, anti-LGBT author and activist, who lives in Springfield who led the work to criminalize LGBT relations with the death penalty in Africa. He also ran for governor in 2018 and garnered 28 percent of the vote at the Republican state convention. The same party whose chair, former state representative Jim Lyons, supports the recently banned anti-LGBT conversion therapy and calls any pro-choice legislation “Infanticide”.
It could be the Barnstable county commissioner who stated on social media that LGBT leaders are “too self-absorbed” to govern.
It could be the silence around the country’s first trans murder in 2018, the killing of Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien in the Berkshires.
Anti-LGBT hostility in the bluest state in the country often gets dismissed as extreme and rare, despite all of these incidents occurring in the relatively short time since the election of Trump. Yet, the commitment to Massachusetts by hate groups is not just about singling out LGBT residents as a specific group, but the intersection of these issues with larger unspoken issues of other identities such as race.
The truth is that the “Straight Pride” leaders who operate through white supremacy feel safe to project their rhetoric and activism in this state because they have an audience, whether we like to admit it or not. These types of beliefs fester in the darkness of silence. This state too often tries to render invisible the intersectional issues causing an economic and political chasm between its groups.
This is evidenced by the Bristol County sheriff attempting to send prisoners to help build the border wall that has taken on a racial meaning for the Trump administration, showcasing that our state values do not always match our actions.
It is not just policy but wide-ranging practices that institutionalize racial and economic divides that create room for this type of hate to ferment.
Issues like valedictorians of color being more likely to become homeless than become doctors, police misconduct against people of color in Springfield as young as 13, Boston giving less than 1 percent of its business contracts to people of color, and the fact that in no city in the Commonwealth is population diversity reflected in total elected leadership.
In practice, our state has created outcomes that, left unaddressed, feed the rhetoric of hate groups that there are no consequences for anti-Semitism, xenophobia, structural racism, and now homophobia.
While Bay Staters often find solace in our decidedly blue voting patterns, those patterns mask ongoing inequalities plaguing our state, which, when unaddressed, become fertile ground for hate to grow.
When hate is loud, love cannot be silent and justice is what love looks like in public. We are going to need a lot more love to conquer this hate.
Amaad Rivera was the first openly gay member of the Springfield city council and served as state policy advisor for US Sen. Ed Markey.