41 years of Pride: It really HAS gotten better

MORE PHOTOS: Pride Parade 2010 | Pride Parade 2011 

It's been 41 years since the first Boston Pride. We take Pride for granted now -- if there are men in in harnesses dancing on floats, it must be June. But Pride wasn't always so mainstream; in fact, it wasn't even always Pride. In its earliest incarnation was a nameless Provincetown march, organized by nascent "homophile" groups to mark the first anniversary of the explosive Stonewall revolt. We've dug deep into our archives to trace Pride's history, from that first parade through the dark days of AIDS and the early days of legal gay marriage. Things sometimes look bad now, but we've come a long, long way.

41 YEARS AGO: "Politics of gay liberation," by Judy Stark | July 7, 1970
In the same year as the first Pride celebration -- back when the Phoenix was still Boston After Dark -- Judy Stark described the recent outpouring of activism from such groups as the Homophile Union of Boston (HUB) and the Daughters of Bilitis. Stark's story came on the heels of Gay Liberation Week, which HUB marked with a Fourth-of-July march in Provincetown -- this was only a few weeks after New York activists commemorated Christopher Street Liberation Day, the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots, with the first Gay Pride March in history. This was at a time when, in Boston, two people of the same sex could be arrested just for dancing together. ("Go to a junior-high dance and watch the girls ...If the police are going to arrest us, they'd better arrest all those other people too," commented HUB president Frank Morgan.) The article closes with this quote from activist Diana Putnam: "Come out of your closet before they nail it shut."

41 YEARS AGO: "A gay win," by Pete Accardi | August 11, 1970

One month later, BU became the first college in New England to hold a dance specifically for gay students, organized by the Boston University Homophile Club. Harvard, UMass Boston, and MIT had repeatedly denied use of their facilities for a similar function. Writes Accardi: "Deans Daniel Nyhart and Holden [of MIT], acting like good scientists, called in their staff psychiatrist, Dr. Joseph Brenner, because they felt the dance question should be listed under the heading ‘medical problem.' " (It wasn't until 1973 that the American Psychiatric Society took homosexuality out of the DSM.) Such a dance, Brenner decided, would be a "threat to the stability" of other students, causing them "unspecified anxiety" to the straight students. Gay activists pointed out that on-campus dances were safer for students, since the only other place gays could dance publicly was the downtown "combat zone."

25 YEARS AGO: "Hard sell: Mr. Safe Sex pushes precaution," by Francis Toohey | June 3, 1986
A couple weeks before the 16th annual Pride parade drew 25,000 marchers to Boston Common (and five years after the CDC first recognized the pandemic that would come to be known as AIDS), Mr. Safe Sex introduced himself to Boston from the balcony of a crowded local gay bar. The "six-foot-tall, 26-year-old near-naked Marine," clad only in a jockstrap, barked orders to onlookers, before showering them in condoms. Later, Mr. Safe Sex's alter ego, "soft-spoken" porn star Glen Swann, chatted with Toohey backstage: "I first came out two and a half years ago, and my first lover owned a bathhouse. And when AIDS was getting bad about two years ago, we needed desperately to do something ... " Swann added, "When we audition for movies now, I practice safe sex."  

10 YEARS AGO: "Risky Business," by Michael Bronski | June 8, 2001
When any prominent conservative figure demeans homosexuals for their "libidinal pathology" the way that openly gay/HIV-postive former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan did, only to be caught secretly perusing websites looking for bareback hook-ups, there's a story. And Sullivan's was a messy one. Perhaps what's especially striking about this story is not so much the allegations of hypocrisy, but rather Sullivan's objections to having his "right to privacy" violated online. Writes Bronski: "Sullivan made a big mistake when he thought of the Internet as ‘private' space. To be sure, you can be anonymous -- or, as the case may be, ‘HardnSolidDC' -- online, but if someone finds out that you are a conservative journalist who is highly critical of gay-male sexual culture, you make yourself dependent on the kindness of strangers. And strangers don't have any moral mandates to be kind, especially if you've been attacking them viciously in print and on the air for more than a decade."

10 YEARS AGO: "Rain on the Parade," by Michael Bronski | June 8, 2001
That same issue featured the Phoenix's 2001 Guide to Pride, which included this meditation on Pride from Bronski, who'd abstained from Pride since 1992, two years before his lover, Walta Borawski, died of AIDS. Writes Bronski: "I am not -- or at least I try not to be -- one of those old radicals who complain that Pride has turned into a parade instead of a protest, that the assimilationists have taken over, that the original message of the gay-liberation movement has been lost. Some of that might be true, but I am over complaining about it and can appreciate the floats and the drag queens as well as anyone else. Yet some of my ability to appreciate all that came from living with and loving Walta, who -- while having strong, doctrinaire politics -- would much rather have donned a Hawaiian shirt and Mardi Gras beads, gotten stoned, and gone to the Pride parade than attended a political meeting or rally. In some deep way, Walta's death punctured my ability to go to Pride and have fun. The advent of AIDS in my life - and in everyone else's as well -- brought me back to a time when it was clear that Pride events had to be overtly political and angry."

7 YEARS AGO: "Here come the brides/grooms: A gay-wedding anthem," by Kristen Lombardi | June 11, 2004
By the time Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in May 2004 (for a 7-year-anniversary retrospective, look here) the wedding-industrial complex was ready to pounce. In just one month, Bay State gay-wedding planners apparently heaved a collective sigh of relief when they were presented with "I Do," which purported to be "the first ceremonial wedding song for same-sex marriages." This little ditty, penned by a straight San Francisco couple, apparently topped the charts during those early days of gay marriage. Gushed one Worcester wedding planner: "At the moment, this is the biggest hit in the same-sex-wedding world. It's definitely the nicest."

1 YEAR AGO: "Fighting back: Two cases in federal court here in Massachusetts could  help turn the national tide against DOMA," by Dierdre Fulton | June 4, 2010

A scant year ago, we covered the two Massachusetts court cases that challenge the Defense of Marriage Act, a Bush-era piece of legislation defining marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. Under DOMA, states don't have to recognize the legality of same-sex marriages performed in other states. Since then, District Judge Joseph Louis Tauro found for the plaintiffs in both suits; the Department of Justice appealed,  but in Febraury, President Obama announced that the DoJ would "cease to defend" both cases, leaving conservative groups scrambling. Stay tuned.

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