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The distraction of Straight Pride, as explained by LGBTQ activists and historians

What is an event that promotes the “inclusion of straights”?

Milo Yiannopoulos.
Milo Yiannopoulos.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Boston’s Straight Pride was only a matter of time. Every year when Black History Month rolls around, a certain segment of the American public asks themselves, “Yes, but what about all the good things white people have done?” Last year, a report from Public Policy Polling found that 35 to 37 percent of Trump supporters feel the United States should have a dedicated month to celebrate the history and contributions of Caucasians.

The same is true for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May, National Hispanic-Latino Heritage Month in September, and National American Indian Heritage Month in November. There’s always someone in a non-marginalized community who wonders, “Where’s my trophy?”

So, with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots happening this year, it was inevitable that straight people would decide they wanted in on the action. In June, a group calling itself Super Happy Fun America announced it was planning a Straight Pride Parade in Boston. The group says they requested the same route as the Boston Pride Parade, which marched from Copley Square to Government Square on June 8.

Straight Pride co-organizer John Hugo told Vox in an email, “Perhaps one day straights will be honored with inclusion and the acronym will be LGBTQS. Until that time, we have no other choice but to host our own events.”

Last week, the city of Boston approved the permit application for the parade, which will be held on August 31 and feature alt-right figure Milo Yiannopoulos as its grand marshal. Yiannopoulos, who is gay, claimed in a statement announcing his participation that he has “spent [his] entire career advocating for the rights of America’s most brutally repressed identity: straight people.”

Milo Yiannopoulos.
Milo Yiannopoulos.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

While news of the event inspired the expected maelstrom of outrage — including condemnations from Avengers star Chris Evans and even the band Smash Mouth — its existence has largely been met with confusion. Many wondered: What the heck is a Straight Pride Parade, anyway? Who will participate? Will there be floats? Or is it just a Chick-fil-A drive-thru?

Vox spoke with LGBTQ organizers and historians across the US to get to the bottom of the Straight Pride Parade: What is it and why is it happening in 2019?

Straight Pride Parade organizers are connected to the alt-right

In an era that has given rise to the alt-right and where the president employs anti-LGBTQ lobbyists, perhaps the least surprising element of Boston’s Straight Pride is that its organizers have been linked to far-right white supremacist groups.

As ThinkProgress was the first to report, Mark Sahady — one of three men credited with organizing the event — has ties to the New Hampshire American Guard and the Massachusetts Patriot Front, both of which the American Defamation League defines as a white supremacist groups. He also has connections to the Proud Boys, the group that was responsible for violently beating a man who stole one of their MAGA hats on the streets of New York City in October 2018. The mob called him a “faggot,” threw him to the ground, and kicked him repeatedly.

Sahady’s co-organizer, Hugo, was backed by the “alt-lite” group Resist Marxism during his unsuccessful run for Massachusetts’ Fifth Congressional District last year.

According to activist Terry Roethlein, a lead organizer of New York City’s Queer Liberation March, the Straight Pride Parade is essentially a funhouse mirror version of an event planned at the Center, the city’s LGBTQ community space, in May. LGBTQ figures in the alt-right movement were scheduled to have a discussion on why LGBTQ people should #WalkAway from the Democratic Party, a hashtag created by the panel’s moderator, Brandon Straka.

If that event, which was eventually cancelled by the Center following backlash, intended to use LGBTQ issues as a cover for far-right ideology, the Straight Pride Parade does the opposite: exploiting anti-LGBTQ sentiment to drum up support for their agenda.

“They’re grasping at straws,” Roethlein says. “They’re using any available platform to create waves because either way they’re going to get some people that agree with them or will nod in agreement. It’s totally out of the Donald Trump playbook — someone who rules by the dark side of Twitter. It’s just anything that will generate some electricity, some sparks, and some negativity.”

More broadly, longtime LGBTQ activist Yasmin Nair tells Vox the Straight Pride Parade is just an excuse for hate groups to march after the backlash to the Unite the Right rally and the death of Heather Heyer at Charlottesville, Virginia, two years ago. “Straight Pride is a weird form of nationalist masculinity burying itself under rainbow-colored blankets,” Nair said.

The alt-right is attempting to capitalize on a culture of division under Trump

In June, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said he “cannot deny a permit based on an organization’s values” but that the city’s “values won’t change” because of an event that he had no plans on attending. Following their announcement, organizers didn’t immediately confirm a date for the parade, and some speculated that Straight Pride would not take place. However, on Thursday, organizers announced the city had approved its event permit for August 31. Hugo affirmed that “people from all communities are welcome,” adding that Super Happy Fun America doesn’t “hate anyone.”

Marty Walsh pride
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh marches in the city’s 2018 LGBTQ Pride Parade.
Scott Eisen / Stringer / Getty Images

“We want people to be aware that there is not only one side of things,” he previously told Boston’s TBZ-TV. “There’s a lot of people that are uncomfortable with a lot of things that are going on in our country and they’re afraid to speak up.”

The both sides-ism Hugo espouses is destructive to queer and trans people at a time when bigotry and anti-LGBTQ hate have become normalized under the current presidency. Just in the past few weeks, the Trump administration has proposed policies that would allow homeless shelters to refuse to house transgender women and medical centers to deny potentially life-saving care to trans people, as long as they cite a religious reason for turning them away.

These near-daily attacks on the rights and protections of LGBTQ Americans has trickled down. A recent survey from the national media watchdog group GLAAD and the Harris Poll showed that straight millennials are less likely to be comfortable with having an LGBTQ family member or an LGBTQ doctor than they were in recent years.

Monica Helms, creator of the Trans Pride flag, says the continued challenges of being LGBTQ even in a time of relative acceptance are why queer and transgender people celebrate Pride to begin with. The act of self-love is a protection, she says, against the daily trauma of being authentically yourself in a society where you are more likely to be evicted from your home, fired from your job, denied access to health care, targeted in a hate crime, or killed in the street because of who you are.

“No matter where we go, where we are, what we do, we could be in danger simply because of who we are,” Helms tells Vox. “We have to fight for our survival. These straight people don’t have to do that.”

Although Super Happy Fun America has claimed that “all communities are welcome” at Straight Pride, the event is only likely to further a culture of exclusion that harms marginalized LGBTQ people already facing oppression. While LGBTQ Pride events foster an inclusive ethos of bringing everyone together under the queer umbrella, Straight Pride is about the celebration of some identities at the expense of others.

Straight Pride is about creating distraction. It’s outrage for outrage’s sake.

Hugo told Vox over email, “We are offended that some have chosen to frame our parade in contrast to LGBTQ pride parade [sic].” However, many see Straight Pride as just trolling the LGBTQ community.

While the event’s page says it hopes to “achieve inclusivity and spread awareness of issues impacting straights in Greater Boston and beyond,” it is flipping terms like “inclusion” and “diversity” on their heads to generate controversy and, thus, free publicity. Its stated mission to celebrate the “diverse history, culture, and contributions of the straight community” is intended to do nothing more than cause internet outrage.

Brian Pendleton, co-founder of the L.A. Resist March, argues getting into “a frothy frenzy about what they’re up to” only plays into their hands.

“LGBTQ Pride Parades and Pride Month are meant to celebrate us and elevate us,” he tells Vox, “whereas I feel like Straight Pride is meant to divide us. It’s just a dog whistle. The best way to respond to that movement — which it’s laughable that it might even be a movement — is to not give it any attention.”

The Facebook page for Super Happy Fun America backs up Pendleton’s argument that the event is merely a rage-click Trojan horse. After a scheduled livestream with Milo Yiannopoulos, the parade’s grand marshal, on June 10 turned out to be a disaster, its social media presence has primarily consisted of mocking liberal outrage about the event. A popular meme featuring a warped Spongebob Squarepants doubled over says, “Leftist when they hear about Straight Pride.”

Super Happy Fun America needs to fan the flames of liberal discontent with Straight Pride because the event is unlikely to be successful otherwise.

In July 2017, blogger Anthony Rebello invited more than 2,000 people to a “Heterosexual Parade” planned in Capitol Hill, Seattle’s historic LGBTQ district. On the day of the event, he was the only person who showed up. As the LGBTQ news site Seattle Gay Scene reported at the time, Rebello marched down the street with black and white balloons and a homemade cardboard sign reading: “Straight Pride.”

It’s a telling indication of the Straight Pride Parade’s likely fortunes that Yiannopoulos has been the only major figure willing to associate himself with the festivities, while Brad Pitt ordered organizers to stop using his likeness under threat of a lawsuit. Two years ago, the alt-right persona would have been a major get. He was popular enough in February 2017 that a cancelled speech at UC Berkeley led to a violent clash with police and $100,000 in property damage.

But Yiannopoulos has fallen on hard times. Shortly following the Berkeley riots, he resigned from Breitbart after old comments resurfaced in which he defended pedophilia. His book, Dangerous, sold around 18,000 copies and he’s reportedly $4 million in debt.

Straight Pride twists why LGBTQ people fight for equality

Although the thinking behind it perhaps isn’t very deep, Straight Pride serves to distort the meaning and history of LGBTQ Pride Month, as well as its relevance to the ongoing struggles of queer and trans people for equality.

A now-common refrain during Pride Month is that the very first LGBTQ Pride was not a party, it was a protest. The inaugural event was held in June 1970 to mark the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a clash between police and patrons of the Stonewall Inn after a series of raids on the West Village gay bar. Because it was illegal to be LGBTQ in most states across the US in the 1960s, being queer or trans was treated as a status crime; bars were frequently targeted by cops, who beat and arrested patrons.

New York City’s Stonewall Inn decorated with rainbow flags.
New York City’s Stonewall Inn.
Ben Hider via Getty Images

One year after Stonewall, a group of activists in New York City honored the Stonewall riots by marching from the West Village to Central Park, where they gathered for what organizers termed a “gay-in.” It was a space where Roethlein says LGBTQ people could be themselves without police inference.

“People could hang out, lie on blankets, have picnics, and just get to know one another in an unpoliced environment, to just be queer or trans or whatever you are and enjoy the day,” Roethlein tells Vox.

That’s not exactly the image many Americans have of Pride parades today, which are complete with Chase Bank and Chipotle floats. According to Nair, LGBTQ Pride events began to pivot away from their radical origins in the 1990s, which is when she claims that “corporations began to realize that the LGBTQ community was also a consumer community.”

But as New York City’s Queer Liberation March protests the increasing corporatization of Pride, many events have carved out their own space in recent years. The Los Angeles Resist March, held in 2017, protested rollbacks of LGBTQ rights under President Trump. The “Walk a Million Faces” march in Jackson, Mississippi, is akin to a giant job fair, one featuring locals who have started their own businesses or community groups.

So while Pride Month might seem like a very mainstream celebration today, it still recognizes that many of the struggles Stonewall protesters faced 50 years ago are the same issues LGBTQ people deal with currently. For example, on June 29, marchers in Montgomery, Alabama, walked right up to the steps of the state capitol building following a particularly difficult few months for the community. In May, lawmakers passed a bill to abolish all marriage certificates rather than issue same-sex marriage licenses, and Alabama Public Television declined to air an episode of the children’s show Arthur because it featured a “gay rat wedding.”

“Montgomery was the site of the first murder of the year of a trans woman of color, Dana Martin,” Jose Vazquez, president of Montgomery Pride United, tells Vox. “We remember all these people that are still victims to a system that ignores the lives of people of color, trans people of color, and queer people of color.”

What distinguishes the genesis of LGBTQ Pride from this year’s Straight Pride event is that heterosexuals — as a group — have never faced targeted police violence or systemic discrimination on the basis of their identities as straight people. Today, LGBTQ people can be fired from their jobs or denied housing in 29 states because of who they are or who they love. A dozen states still have sodomy laws on the books, even after the 2003 US Supreme Court ruling decriminalizing homosexuality.

In contrast, no state in the US has a law punishing consensual intercourse between two heterosexual adults (who aren’t related to each other, at least).

There are many ways to counterprotest Straight Pride — like living authentically queer

While anyone is free to get angry or march in the streets over Straight Pride, Bigham says she would like to see that same energy directed back toward the LGBTQ community itself. According to Bigham, many of the young people — and even some of the older folks — that she interacts with at Trans Pride LA haven’t heard of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two trans activists who boldly put their lives on the line to fight for LGBTQ equality.

A recent Bospar poll attests to this lack of awareness. According to the marketing research firm Propeller Insights, only 15 percent of Americans are aware of Stonewall’s role in kickstarting the modern LGBTQ rights movement.

“That makes me sad because what makes me proud of my community is the fact that we’ve always been there,” she tells Vox. “There’s been times when we’ve been kicked and we’ve been beaten. And people like Sylvia, they got up and they screamed and they yelled and they fought. That’s what’s beautiful to me — we cannot be held down.”

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