While many Americans spent Labor Day weekend barbecuing, going to the beach, or perhaps preparing for a hurricane, a couple hundred marchers took to the streets of downtown Boston on Saturday for a “Straight Pride Parade,” puzzlingly grand marshaled by Milo Yiannopoulos, the former Breitbart editor and alt-right talking head.
Yiannopoulos, who’s openly gay, has described queerness as "a lifestyle choice guaranteed to bring [gay people] pain and unhappiness." On Saturday, he wore a glittering red hat that read, “Make America Straight Again.” Taking the stage to make his remarks, Yiannopoulos applauded the marchers for having “the bravery to live as open heterosexuals in today’s hostile society.”
City officials signed off on the march back in June, and the rally organizers, a group called Super Happy Fun America, announced their parade during Boston’s LGBTQ+ pride celebrations. They claim that in today’s culture of political correctness, straight people are an oppressed majority.
Plenty of Bostonites were incensed that a parade spouting bigoted views was cleared by their city. (A request to raise the Straight Pride flag at City Hall Plaza was denied.) Mayor Marty Walsh condemned the event, said the march “is not any representation of who we are as a city,” and vowed to steer clear. “This weekend I'm celebrating what makes our city so great — our people — by attending neighborhood block parties, visiting farmer’s markets and BBQs, and celebrating safe neighborhoods,” he wrote on Twitter.
About 200 people turned up to march in the parade itself, but they were overshadowed by thousands of counter-protesters who amassed along the route. People shouted, “Shame on you!” as the demonstrators worked their way towards City Hall, flanked by Boston police officers assigned to protect the marchers. As the rally wound down around 4 pm, some protestors turned their ire on city officials, the mayor, and police, who they resented for allowing the parade and protecting alt-right marchers. LGBTQ+ allies flooded the streets chanting, “Who do you serve?”
Things got chaotic and violent as protesters squared off with police. The cops doused the crowd in pepper spray after they say people started throwing bottles of urine and so-called milkshakes (liquid mixtures that sometimes include chemicals) at them. Boston officers say they found handcuff keys and razor blades on some protesters they detained. Four police officers suffered non-life-threatening injuries. All in all, 36 people were arrested on Saturday; they’re slated to be arraigned on Tuesday.
According to Tweets from the group Antifa, most of the people arrested were anti-parade protestors. Jon Crowley, a self-identified member of Antifa, told the Boston Herald that violence was necessary to “shut up” the Straight Pride marchers. “They are fascists, 100%. How else are you going to get them to shut up?” he asked.
One thing that’s puzzling about the Straight Pride Parade is the mixed, overlapping messages seemingly broadcast by both sides. On the group’s website, Super Fun Happy America president John Hugo is quoted as saying, “The day will come when straights will finally be included as equals among all of the other orientations.” But to many LGBTQ+ people and their allies, this logic is inherently flawed.
“As a transgender woman, I find it very offensive that people were attempting to hijack our pride because the community has fought so hard over the last 20 years to gain acceptance,” one counter-protester, who was assaulted by police for using a bullhorn, told WGBH. “Those people have never had to risk losing their jobs for being straight, they’ve never been fired for being straight. Nobody's ever been disowned for being straight.”
“As a straight person, I’m outraged at the idea of them arguing that straight people are an oppressed majority,” Shoshanna Ehrlich, a gender studies professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, told the Boston Globe. “We’re not the ones beat up, marginalized, and harassed for our sexuality.”
But ultra-conservative gay people, like engaged Trump supporters Peter Brown and Marky Hutt, disagree. “It’s much harder to be a conservative than it is being gay these days,” Hutt told the Boston Globe. Strangely, he added a sentiment of tolerance more normally associated with traditional pride celebrations. “Accept and love everybody — it doesn’t matter whether you’re gay or straight. Nobody should be shamed for their sexuality.”