Let's take a walk down the block.
June is Pride Month, and last week we took a walk down the block in the South End to take stock of Boston Pride, past and present. But the story doesn't end there. Folks are looking for a new organization to take the helm and represent all of Boston's LGBTQ community. And some think the queer collective Trans Resistance MA could be it. They're holding a march and festival from Cedar Square Park, near Nubian Square in Roxbury, to Franklin Park on June 25.
We met them nearby on the corner of Intervale Street and Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester. It's a mix of multifamily houses and small businesses — convenience store on one corner, a barbershop and beauty salon. On the next, a couple of abandoned buildings in an empty lot. Another is a part of the neighborhood that makes Chastity Bowick uneasy.
“I'm having anxiety thinking about the situations that I've been through in this area and how it will affect my life today,” said Bowick, executive director of the Transgender Emergency Fund of Massachusetts. “Like right now, I don't feel in control being right here. If I didn't have my mace in my purse right now, I would feel a different sort of way.”
With the Transgender Emergency Fund of Massachusetts, Bowick now supports low income and homeless transgender individuals. She once was one of them.
“In this area in 2011 is where I became homeless, and was indulging in survival sex work,” she said. “And this was the area that I would meet a lot of my dates. I felt uncomfortable doing the downtown scene. You know, downtown, you get more of the white clientele. And here in the hood, you are going to get exactly where you’re at, which, you know, you got to work harder for the money in this area.”
Bowick escaped that life a while ago, but her past still follows her.
“I don't know if somebody is going to recognize me from before,” she said. “It has happened. Most recently was a couple of years ago working in Boston Medical Center. Somebody came right up to me like, ‘oh, I remember you from Intervale Street. Are you free tonight?’ As if, like, you didn't see the employee badge. So it doesn’t matter that this person may have changed, they may not be into that. No, I'm always going to be labeled as a sex worker to the people who know me that way.”
These days, Bowick usually stays away from the street. She wasn't sure if she'd ever be able to come back here. But she met me here, and will be back later this month for the Trans Resistance March and Festival. Bowick, along with Athena Vaughn and several other queer activists of color, founded Trans Resistance in the wake of the Boston Pride fallout in 2020, saying the Boston Pride board failed to include and represent them for years.
“Pride was always doing the march in downtown and at City Hall and stuff like that, and we had people of color, especially trans individuals, who don't resonate with that area,” Vaughn said in a phone interview. “But we said that we wanted it to be somewhere that represents us.”
Vaughn, who stepped down as president of Trans Resistance MA last year, said her organization never wanted Boston Pride to dissolve.
"Pride was always doing the march in downtown... We said that we wanted it to be somewhere that represents us."
-Athena Vaugh, cofounder, Trans Resistance MA
“What we wanted was for Boston Pride to change its board. We wanted them to look more like the community, and to actually have community members on the board, and be able to do what we were asking,” Vaughn said.
She hopes in the absence of Boston Pride, Trans Resistance can be the group to bring everyone together. Back on the block. Bowick said it's good for there to be a break in tradition by not having a Pride parade this year.
“In the many decades that Boston Pride has gone on, they have never once considered changing the area of where they do things,” Bowick said. “It was always for the people who they wanted to attract, and that message was loud and clear.”
Bowick recalled asking Boston Pride if they’d consider having a float of trans people lead the parade, only to be told the order had already been decided and it was too late to change things.
“But they never reached out,” she said.
Julia Golden, interim director of Trans Resistance MA, recalled attending Boston Pride parades of the past. It was nice, they said. “But it didn’t feel like home.”
“When I got to the Trans Resistance March in 2020, I honestly had tears in my eyes,” Golden said. “Because not one celebration in 20 years that I've been doing this made me feel like I actually belonged. My Latinx part belonged, my queer side belonged, my non-binary self – none of it ever felt like it all belonged in one place.”
Golden recalled a moment during that march when Bowick embraced the owner of a hair salon along the route. Bowick rejoiced as she talked about the African hair braiders.
“Her shop has always been welcoming to trans women,” Bowick said. “A lot of places we go in Boston to try to get our hair done, they look and they’re snickering about us or laughing about us, they make us feel so uncomfortable. But [this salon] always made us feel comfortable. So to have her come out and, you know, be a part really of the celebration was a real moment.”
It was a touching moment for Golden, too.
“To see a community member not just see us, but want to come out and just celebrate with us — I was like, only Chastity could call people out and say, come on through,” Golden said. “And it was amazing. And I think that to me is, again, that moment of hope. This is what I want it to be like.”
But not every space on the block feels safe. Bowick pointed out an auto body shop where workers used to heckle her as she walked down the street.
"To see a community member not just see us, but want to come out and just celebrate with us [...] was amazing. And I think that to me is, again, that moment of hope."-Julia Golden, interim president of Trans Resistance MA
Coincidentally, while we were hanging out on the block, someone in a car driving by yelled an obscenity in our direction.
“We just got a prime example of why trans women don't really be out during the daytime,” Bowick said. “And it's like we could just be minding our business. And you know, thank God, they could have been throwing something out the window, you know what I mean?”
Golden said it's admirable to see Bowick and others reclaim their communities, even when they haven't always been kind. And Bowick said some people in the neighborhood are taking notice.
“So many people came up to me, people from the Black and Latinx communities who live in this area, were like, ‘Oh, I saw you,’” Bowick said. “I was out the window and I was like, 'oh my God, I never see this many trans people in this community come down the street.’ ‘Oh, my God, that was amazing. Like, we need to see this, and I brought my kids out to the window.’”
“Knowing that we had really had the impact on the residents in this area, they were able to see, okay, wait, they're here,” Bowick said. “And it's not just a few of them. They have a backup, they got allies. And that we're here and you need to hear us, point-blank period.”
The agenda for this year's march and festival is to push for more of that visibility and representation; to advocate for housing and economic support for trans women of color; and to memorialize those the trans community has lost.
Bowick, Golden and Vaugh said they hope the city takes note of their efforts, and say Boston's new Office of LGBTQ Advancement is a step in the right direction. They hope that, going forward, Pride can be for everyone and celebrated all over the city.