#HandsOffOurPride (& the “straight pride” parade…if I must mention it)
If I’m to be completely candid, I’ve been mostly silently — as to not expose my ignorances (working on that ego-erosion)— searching my soul & the world, to figure out how to be an ally; while simultaneously reflecting to get to the root of my connection to heterosexuality, & understand where I feel most myself on the spectrum of sexuality.
As a human, this unlearning & explorative journey is a most relatable & humbling one, especially in this, the Age of Awakening. As a Black cis-gendered heterosexual (as of thus far in my reflecting) man, I’ve found myself feeling most lost & embarrassed, even guilty, as I’ve come to more deeply understand my privilege, rights &responsibilities as a member of the world. Due to aforementioned trepidations, I’ve found myself mostly left to my own devices in understanding where I’m positioned in this social discourse.
That’s largely how it is — it’s up to you, as an individual, to come to this understanding; to find true power in self & to overcome realities thrust upon you by the umbrellas-that-be, which attempt to cast shadows above each of our individual lights. Some find power in this independent journey. Some find themselves facing their darkest fears as they come to uncover the resiliency & vitality they hold within, void any other influence. In terms of the journey of soulitude (no mispelling, I said SOULitude), you find what you seek, I’ve come to accept.
There is, though, a communal exchange of ideas, information & energy that occurs amidst healthy debate & discussion; one that serves as revelatory illumination, highlighting the mutualness of our mortalities & properly identifying divisions based on judgements, perceptions & fears, as counterproductive to the very nature of life.
I saw very little of this humbling & unifying spirit last Saturday, in Downtown Boston — chosen location for the “Straight Pride Parade”, which prompted the perpendicular “#HandsOffOurPride” protest & rally.
There’s been quite the exponential increase in global pressures & unfortunate happenings — like, actually; beyond the media’s increased prominence & negative concentration therein. I’ve been trying, like most world citizens, to understand my place in it all. & the media has done little, if nothing, to help. Void close friends, of late, with whom I could bounce idea of existence off of, I decided to retreat within for some Q&(sorta)A. Not but a few hours after deciding to commit to a social media hiatus for this much needed silence & sanity-sprucing-up, I caved Friday evening & wound up checking my Facebook Messenger inbox. For no particular reason, just FOMO, you know? Older versions of myself would have immediately judged my lack of discipline, but I’ve grown more gentle towards my soul. I’m actually very glad I chose to — ended up seeing an unread message from someone I’d connected with online, but never actually met, in person. I don’t even recall the original reason for us virtually connecting, but I’ve tried to screen friend requests with a vigilance against Russian hackers & gossip & other forms of toxicity, so my connections bring mostly light & comedy into my life, with the occasional cause for critical thinking or calls to action. This was the latter.
This brother & member of BLM Cambridge reached out to inform me of a public demonstration of protest meant to address some recent statements of societal exclusion & inequality. A cause for fight. I’ve been finding it hard to get up & out recently, but I’ve also been searching for Black male community, & Martin was specifically seeking to galvanize Black men to show up for our kindred folks in the battle for true equality. & so I went to this #HandsOffOurPride rally. I say that I attended the #HandsOffOurPride event last weekend, as opposed to the “Straight Pride Parade” because the division between the two overlapping demonstrations was so stark that there were literally two separate experiences occurring at once, in a single space. Two completely different frequencies, connected by our humanity but perceiving only of differences in opinion & physical appearance.
From the first moments walking up to the Samuel Adams statue directly before Fanieul Hall (the meeting place of the group of Black men), I felt an optimism about myself. I hadn’t been to a protest since pre-Trump 2016 (just realizing this now, while reflecting) & wondered if the post-whiplash phase of fight, following full-on entry into adulthood — along with begrudged acceptance of who the POTUS is — had begun in me. Walking up to the benches before the statue, I saw Martin (though I didn’t recognize him from his profile photograph, at the time) & another virtual connection I’d not yet had the pleasure of meeting in-person. We dove rather quickly & rather deeply into a full-breakfast-of-a-chat about the current state of affairs, that prompted the very event that had pulled me out of my semi-dormancy -the same seemed true for others as well. We all heard a sudden cheer, & knew it were time to cross over to Government Center (the space directly before City Hall). Given the parade wasn’t set to begin until noon, & it was in the 9 o’clock hour, we knew it was the #HandsOffOurPride rally beginning.
We walked over & through the police security screening, into the gates separating the rally space from the rest, & the first familiar face I saw was that of my favorite DJ in the city, DJ Why Sham. To see her there, I knew the vibe was a good one. My guard lowered a bit more & I began to do what I do — capture the scene photographically. There were speakers, performers, & only one confrontation with the later-arriving members of the parade party. The focus of the rally was, as expressed by organizer Monica Canon-Grant, to bring people together in peace & love, & create a space completely contradictory to the vibe of those coming to the area later in the day. In only the most loosely direct way were the intentions or participants of later’s parade mentioned. The rally’s focus was on healing & supporting the people who felt slighted & further oppressed by the inception of the parade.
Towards the end of the rally, Monica warned the attendees that the following protest & counter-parade demonstrations was not BLM & would be more than likely directly confronting the members of the parade’s party — & that they weren’t getting organizationally involved with that, but that attendees should feel more than welcome, they should feel encouraged to (safely) participate in the following demonstrations. Then they cleared out, & I set out to see just what this insane exigence would turn out to look like.
It didn’t take long to find the parade en route to where the rally was held. I simply followed the street blockades, police bikes lining the sides of the street soul train-style, & helicopters floating overhead. Beginning at the Boston Public Garden was a crowd of parade protesters waiting for the parade to crawl down the blocks from Copley Square to there, where they’d begin to walk parallel to the parade, making sure to drown the parade’s attendees with sounds & sights that prompted some true reflection on life’s decisions.
Within 20 minutes of my arrival, the two groups began the showdown, directly before Emerson College, separated by a thin metal fence, a line of police & swat officers, & a sea of contrasting opinions & beliefs.
A number of groups were present — from self-identified Angry Librarians to various groups with their faces concealed, toting flags & shields (which I later discovered were considered weapons if wielded by protesters, though permitted for parade participants). Many Emerson students piled out of their dormitories to join the protest & mark their first few days of school in Boston with having taken a stand.
For the next quarter of a mile, from the Boston Common to the Government Center City Hall Plaza, there was simple chaos. The police were met with chants of “who do you protect? who do you serve?” as they herded protesters out of the way & escorted the parade participants through to their destination & intentions fulfilled. A number of protesters were arrested in rather physically imposing manners, & were met with shouts from protesters notifying them of pre-secured legal assistance to be provided for the marchers in need of it.
By the time we all made it down to City Hall, I’d witnessed about 9 escalated arguments, about 12 people being arrested, & countless statements of pride & defense of values, but also insults & slurs thrown by both sides.
Honestly, I didn’t see a clear divide across racial, or sexual orientation lines, or any other of the social casts we’re slotted into. You could feel it in the air, a layer dug beneath those simplistic perceptions of individuals; it was within each of us — a push or a pull, based on connections to our moralities, but also on individual intersectional identities that placed us each rigidly on one side or the other.
I walked past an internet youtube-interviewer, whom at first I assumed to be a journalist, because he had a microphone & was interviewing individuals amidst heated exchanges. Upon walking up to one of the discussions, however, I realized that he was deliberately asking questions to rile the individuals up against one another. His instigation immediately caused a ringing in my ear, similar to that which I hear when in the presence of propaganda, slander, libel or gaslighting, or other forms of divisive misinformation & propagation of negativity. Somehow, though, I found myself in the debate myself. His questions were tripping both parties up, & I wanted to try & bring some sort of unity from the situation, if at all possible.
Seemingly, it wasn’t so.
I didn’t see anyone I could identify as an actual journalist, but I ran into many people with online blogs & other virtual mediums, & spoke with a couple of them. The majority seemed of the same sort of spirit, of enticing interviewees to anger with triggering inquiries about the other side. In each of the conversations, I found myself trying to make sense of the situation & interactions, & help one hear the other. In each instance, the yelling increased & the understanding & empathy went more & more out the window. Though occupying & operating in the exact same space, though dwelling in the exact same city, the two opposing groups stood at the ultimate edges of their polar views. & there seemed no middle link of any sort that could bring the groups to common ground, though walking right next to one another.
In the end, the police only allowed participants of the parade into the stage-area, where the “straight pride”parade-endorsed musical artists & speakers were set to share. Those presenters never made it to the stage, as the crowds would not allow anyone through (& I assume there was discomfort on the speakers/musicians ends, seeing what the parade had brought about).
I’d like to say that I left with clear understanding of my role in this battle. I’d like to say I didn’t debate with parade attendees who identify as cis-gendered & heterosexual speak about how “gay people have more rights than straight white men nowadays”. But what I saw most from Saturday’s experience was the inability of one side to hear the other, whether intentional or not. & this makes me wonder of the true & long-term implications of the turn our political & social systems have taken in the last 2–5 years. & if we’ve truly solidified divisions that were, once upon a time, the sins of the fathers that younger generations could rectify.
I’m uncertain of mostly all, but know for sure that it will take a lot to bring our nation to a common understanding. A lot more than a new president. A lot more than protests & parades. A lot more than pictures & blogs. It’s going to take some consistent & unified counter-hegemonic action, social transformation & political decision-making. It’s going to have to begin with some individual accounting for the impact of our world’s current trajectory on our experiences; some individual healing. Only then will we have the collective strength to truly overcome what’s been and mold, from it, something more.