Pride 2013 in New England really started on May 18th, on the Boston Common, at the foot of the steps of the Capitol’s golden dome, when a couple of thousand youth from across the Commonwealth and New England came together to celebrate.
Youth Pride, in its nineteenth year, is the nation’s oldest annual LGBT youth parade and festival—the first in the world (as its founders loved to say).
On Youth Pride Day, the Mayor always issues a proclamation. The Governor does too (even Governor Romney did—which he came to rue, but that’s another story). The parade winds its way past the State House and Boston Police officers hold back traffic. The Duck Boat people donate a boat every year to lead the whole thing off. Rep. Alice Wolf and Rep. Liz Malia were parade marshals one time, sitting in a convertible and waving like the beauty queens they are. Drag Queens perform; teen bands take to the stage (and drive adult chaperones to the perimeter) while kids with fishnet stockings and pink and purple hair and piercings in amazing places gyrate to the music. It’s Youth Pride.
One year it snowed on May 8th. Many years it has been raining or freezing. A forecast for torrential rain, which proved accurate, drove Youth Pride indoors one year and thanks to the incredible overnight generosity of businesses like Bay Windows, and private citizens, YP was able to rent the Castle at Park Square to shelter the celebration. The streets were rivers, the downpour blinding, but the kids insisted on marching anyway. Grace Sterling Stowell Executive Director of BAGLY marched alongside them.
Kids come to Youth Pride from across the Commonwealth and the other New England states taking public transportation or carpooling. Some have parents who know who their kids are and where they are going, but others have parents who don’t know yet that their 14 and 15 year old children are LGB or T and that their outing in Boston on May 18th is, well, an outing. The Youth Pride organizers have a special responsibility to the youth who participate and to their parents. All concerned bear the safety of the youth in mind at all times. There is extra security and much attention paid by adult chaperones to monitoring the crowds that gather to watch the celebration. Often, political resisters follow every move, taking pictures and holding placards. For some youth, this is their first visit to the big city. Pulling together thousands of teenagers for a party sounds like an adult’s nightmare, but—never an arrest, never a problem, in nineteen years.
A committee of youth from around the state form in the Fall to plan for Youth Pride. This year they were led by Logan Ferraro, a trained youth worker, whose stipend was supported by a grant from BAGLY and from the Friends of GLBT Youth. BAGLY holds the Prom every year the night of Youth Pride, a night which rocks City Hall to its foundations. That we have a Mayor who happily has thrown open wide the doors of Boston’s City Hall for an annual LGBT youth dance is a phenomenon. Mayor Menino’s consistent support of these kids and his understanding that a parade and a dance and fun should be what all kids get to enjoy is a magnificent part of his legacy.
The youth who plan Youth Pride pick the theme and design the logo and work on advertising and publicity, learning to work together and to manage a big event. Boston Pride has contributed mightily in the last two years to making Youth Pride a success, overseeing all the logistics for the day, from permits to amplifiers to port-a-potties. Malcolm Carey, Boston Pride Clerk, was instrumental this year in helping to make the day a reality.
There are dozens of booths where youth can pick up health information and information about schools and career training, about services that the DESE offer, for instance. Buttons, t-shirts, fruit smoothies, fried dough . . .yes, it’s Pride all right, in all its seriousness and frivolity. And it’s kids.
Youth Pride is paid for privately through contributions to the Friends of GLBT Youth, Inc. and by BAGLY and Boston Pride, and philosophically by the Massachusetts Commission on LGBT Youth. Protestors like to claim that the state is paying for it with taxpayer money, but that is not true. Small donations from across the state pay for Youth Pride. One significant donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, kept Youth Pride alive for a few years.
There may come a time—perhaps we see it dawning—when advancements have been so successful that a special day set aside for Pride will seem anachronistic. There are teenagers now—happy thought—who have not been doomed to years in a closet and for them a day tromping through Boston streets and dancing on the Common may seem “so yesterday.” Adults may think that now that we have marriage, etc., etc., why do we need Pride, especially Youth Pride?
Here’s why. Every 14 year old is a 14 year old. She’s the one who is wondering who the heck she is anyway. He’s the one who is agonizing that no one will ever really “get” him. Each person comes out to self first and it is self-respect that Pride is all about. Look up the definitions of “pride” and “self-respect” is one of them. Working with LGBT youth is, in deep background, suicide prevention work. The statistics are still profoundly alarming—lgb youth are 7 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. (statistics from MA Commission on LGBT Youth) Self-respect is a life-saver. It’s the antidote.
Youth Pride is a vital expression of self-respect. Come next year to Youth Pride…it will be on a Saturday in May as it always is. Volunteer, or, just stand on the street and cheer; send in some money to help it run, or, just buy some fried dough at the booth, but come and see and remember and let the youth know that you will always make sure that they get to party and dance and parade and to BE.
Kathleen Henry is the President and one of the founders of The Friends of GLBT Youth, Inc. a 501c3 organization.