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A controversial "Straight Pride" parade is set to step off Saturday in Boston.
Its organizers say their group aims to advocate on behalf of the straight community, and the parade is inclusive and welcomes all. But the organizers and some featured guests have ties to far-right organizations, and many say the parade is a thinly veiled attempt to express anti-diversity sentiments.
Here’s what we know about the event, and the people behind it.
The Parade's Logistics
The parade, put on by the newly formed organization Super Happy Fun America (SHFA), is scheduled to begin in Copley Square at noon and end at City Hall Plaza, along a route similar to the Boston Pride parade.
(Boston Pride issued a statement Monday saying "the Straight Pride Parade is organized by a group of white supremacists and is an attempt to bait the Boston LGBTQ community." It advises people not to respond to the “trolling.”)
It's unclear how many people the dueling events will draw. Two years ago, a self-described "free speech" rally, featuring a small number of participants — including some people also involved in the "straight pride" parade — was met with tens of thousands of counter-protesters.
The SHFA treasurer claims that “a few hundred” people and “a half-dozen floats” have registered to officially participate in their parade.
The city of Boston has granted the required permits for the parade. Mayor Marty Walsh spoke about the parade in June, tweeting that “permits to host a public event are granted based on operational feasibility, not based on values or endorsements of beliefs.”
City officials referred WBUR to Walsh’s tweets, and did not respond to further questions. Boston police on Friday said they will set up metal detectors and conduct bag checks on City Hall Plaza. They will also post plainclothes and uniformed officers, close streets and restrict parking along the parade route.
Once the parade reaches City Hall Plaza, organizers plan a number of speeches, including from far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and Enrique Tarrio, national leader of the far-right, all-male Proud Boys.
The Organizers And Their Associations
Super Happy Fun America formed earlier this year as a nonprofit corporation, and John Hugo, Samson Racioppi and Mark Sahady — all Massachusetts residents — are listed as its officers.
“Straight people are an oppressed majority," Hugo, the group's president, says on its website. "The day will come when straights will finally be included as equals among all of the other orientations."
LGBTQ+ advocates, like Robb Johnson, acting director of MassEquality, strongly disagree.
"We absolutely reject the idea — prominently featured on the Parade organizers' website — that straight people are oppressed," he said in a statement. "Straight people's rights are non diminished when society makes room for LGBTQ people."
Running as a Republican, Hugo, of Woburn, unsuccessfully sought the 5th Congressional District seat in 2018. During the race, he was endorsed by the group Resist Marxism, which describes itself as "a patriotic organization dedicated to American nationalism" and protecting "Western culture and Christianity."
Robert Trestan, executive director of the New England branch of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), says similar “code words” are used as language to communicate within other organizations the ADL has described as extremist or promoters of hate.
Sahady, of Malden, and Racioppi, of Salisbury, both describe themselves as organizers for Resist Marxism, which also held a separate "free speech" rally in Boston in 2018, and counter-protests to the March For Our Lives movement and the state’s "red flag" gun bill.
Sahady, vice president of SHFA, is not a member of the Proud Boys, but he has attended rallies with its members and says he supports the group.
The Boston office of the FBI is working with Boston police and “a number of other local and state law enforcement partners” to ensure safety on Saturday, FBI Boston spokeswoman Kristen Setera said in an email.
“The FBI — like our partners — is committed to addressing any threat so that those who choose to gather peacefully can speak freely and without fear,” Setera added. “Our focus is never on a person's membership in particular groups but on criminal activity."
SHFA organizer Racioppi said any violence in the city would be "at the hands of the [counter-]protesters, and ... the hands of the Boston Police Department." After this post was published, Racioppi wrote in an email that what he meant to say was that "if violence occurs, it will be a combination of protesters and [a] lack of resources on behalf of BPD, not that [police] will be initiating the violence."
Sahady said the group will have “internal security.” He told WBUR “we figure there are going to be people who try to infiltrate and cause problems.”
Hugo, Super Happy Fun America's president, says if counter-protesters attempt to block the parade route, the group will hold its rally in Copley Square.
With reporting from WBUR investigative reporter Beth Healy and the Associated Press
This article was originally published on August 29, 2019.
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