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When the State Enforces “Straight Pride”

Attacks on LGBTQ people are on the rise across the country. In Boston, right-wing extremists got the police to do their dirty work.

Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty

The few hundred marchers and supporters who turned out for the Straight Pride Parade in Boston on Saturday were vastly outnumbered by thousands of counterprotesters—that was the main takeaway from the major media outlets that covered the event. But the parade-goers were outnumbered by police, too, as hundreds of officers from throughout the Boston area—many in riot gear—were assigned downtown to protect the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos, the disgraced alt-right darling and parade grand marshal, and “floats” such as this:

The turnout was as predictable as the result: Police pepper sprayed countless protesters and arrested 34 of them. The vice president of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, the local police union, claimed those arrested were “here to create havoc,” while the ACLU of Massachusetts is now investigating police misconduct in the course of the protests. Once again, a small group of far-right malcontents had succeeded, if nothing else, in fomenting conflict and enlisting state power in that effort.

Right-wing extremists have been staging these confrontations in cities across the country, now under the banner of “straight pride.” The Boston organizers are openly allied with alt-right groups like the Proud Boys. One of them attended a violent Patriot Prayer rally in Portland in 2018 and was photographed there in riot regalia. Still, the city of Boston approved a permit application filed by these organizers’ group, Super Happy Fun America, because, as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said in June, “The City of Boston cannot deny a permit based on an organization’s values.”

These rallies are part of a broader right-wing assault—both figurative and literal—on LGBTQ people. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported a spike in anti-LGBTQ hate violence between May 15 and July 15 and counted 22 anti-LGBTQ protests. Neo-Nazi groups crashed Pride events in Detroit and Knoxville. “Collectively, all of these incidents demonstrate the growing hostility, backlash, and sinister nature of many of the far right’s efforts against the LGBTQ community,” said the NCAVP report.

There were 18 protests alone targeting Drag Queen Story Hour events, in which drag queens read to children and their family members at local public libraries. “Put on black clothes grab a Nazi flag, put on some iron cross patches and protest a drag queen story hour in your town or state,” one 4chan user posted in June. But these attacks are not fringe affairs confined to internet hinterlands; they are designed to propel anti-LGBTQ talking points into the mainstream. During the height of Pride, right-wing commentator Laura Ingraham told her podcast listeners that Drag Queen Story Hour is “the left’s new cultural warpath to gender bend our kids into submission.”

A group called MassResistance has been leading the charge against Drag Queen Story Hour. It was founded in 1995 by Massachusetts’ Brian Camenker to challenge “homosexual activism in the schools”—like gay-straight alliances and the national advocacy group Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. Back in 2000, Camenker’s group illegally recorded LGBT youth groups and distributed the tapes in an attempt to defund the state’s Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. Just a few years later, Camenker was likening gay people to Nazis and anti-gay activists to persecuted Jewish people.

The head of MassResistance’s California chapter, Arthur Schaper, appeared on Ingraham’s Fox News show in June. “We’re not talking about diversity here, we’re talking about deviance,” he said. “We’re talking about perverse and destructive lifestyles being animated, or advertised, to children, as if it’s normal.” In July, he backed the vice mayor of Dixon, California, in demanding the town designate a “straight pride” month—a move that has inspired at least one white nationalist “traditionalist” to publicly join the group. That the Southern Poverty Law Center had designated MassResistance an anti-LGBT hate group, the man said in a video, only made him want to sign up more.

The more traditional, mediagenic anti-LGBTQ messages about “protecting the children” are now fully interwoven with the white nationalist agenda of racial purity. It’s been a long time coming. In 1995, I co-founded my Massachusetts high school’s gay-straight alliance with support from the governor’s commission and one straight guidance counselor. I wasn’t aware of Camenker at the time. But in the 1990s, hostile students were already hurling the idea of “straight pride” as a protest against the alliance and those who identified as anything but straight. The governor’s commission documented this tactic way back in a 1993 report—of which MassResistance keeps a copy on its website.

As the visibility of LGBTQ people has grown, so has the hostility—especially so amid the rise of alt-right, men’s rights, white supremacist, and other groups in the age of Trump. And more and more, the state is enabling them. In arraignments in Boston on Tuesday morning, prosecutors asked that the disorderly conduct charges against the protesters be dropped, but the judges repeatedly refused. The justice system, from the cops to the courts, has become a useful tool for right-wing extremists to spread fear among LGBTQ people and to punish those who oppose their “straight” agenda.