Looking for an alternative to the standard Boston Pride festivities? Or maybe just an extra party off the Orange Line on your way home from the downtown action? Whatever your deal is, it’s time to break the chains, so to speak, and for such a mission there is no finer guide than JP songwriter and resident Evan Greer, who has organized an event to rival the corporate beast that is Big Pride. With Greer’s Break the Chains soiree tonight featuring Afro-Latin social justice performer Taína Asili offering such a Utopian refuge, we threw some Qs around and captured even more reasons to end your personal parade at the Milky Way …
DB: There has been skepticism about the corporate nature of Boston Pride for some time. Has it gotten worse over the years? Why is this the year to break the chains?
EG: I think this issue is much bigger than Boston Pride itself. Boston Pride’s increasingly corporate, mainstream, approach is a reflection of a broader current within the “gay rights” movement nationwide. Queer liberation used to be about dismantling oppressive systems like capitalism, now mainstream gay rights groups want us to think it’s about assimilating and gaining power within those systems. This is a danger that every movement faces as it succeeds in gaining sweeping cultural changes. Throughout history we’ve seen how movements that were once rooted in a commitment to disrupting the status quo can quickly be co-opted to maintain it.
The fact that, against the backdrop of the growing Black Lives Matter movement, Boston Pride initially nominated a police officer as a Marshall—a decision they quickly regretted and recanted upon—shows how as institutions that claim to represent marginalized people grow larger and push further into the mainstream, they can lose touch with the realities that the people they claim to represent are facing. The good news here is that co-optation and assimilation politics are here because our movement has been winning major victories over the last several decades. Now we must make a choice: are we going to accept the crumbs tossed to us by the powers that be and celebrate our newfound acceptance within a racist, classist, sexist, imperialist systems? Or are we going to break the chains and do the hard work of uniting with other oppressed peoples to tear those systems to the ground?
DB: Are there any redeeming qualities you can think of? Perhaps a find Boston Pride memory?
EG: Pride Festivals play an important role in making the LGBTQ+ community visible. While Boston Pride and most other festivals have a long way to go to be more representative of the full spectrum of our community, many many queer and trans people find joy, solace, and safety at these events. Pride is so much bigger than the organizations that run it or its corporate sponsorships. There are dozens of alternative events that spring up around Pride every year—letter writings to queer prisoners, underground music events, spaces specifically for LGBTQ people of color, the Dyke March, etc. Having a week each year when our community has a boost in energy and visibility is a good thing.
DB: How do you feel about the attitude that that’s an accomplishment of sorts—having everyone from Budweiser to Coca-Cola wanting to stamp their names on the sides of floats?
EG: Corporations are fairly simple creatures. They like profits, and they don’t like risk. The fact that major corporations are reading the writing on the wall and recognizing that the LGBTQ movement is winning and that it’s in their own self interest to appear to be supporting us is a testament to the success of decades of grassroots organizing lead by marginalized queer and trans people around the world. But it’s also a threat to the future of that organizing; if we’re dazzled by big money and mainstream reach that comes with cozying up to giant companies like Wal-Mart and Budweiser, we’re inherently prioritizing the rights of certain LGBTQ people over others. What about the LGBTQ people who work at Wal-Mart making poverty wages and have no recourse if they’re fired because their manager doesn’t like their gender presentation? How does it help them when we fly Wal-Mart’s flag above our Pride Parade? When the mainstream gay rights movement decided to prioritize the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, they succeeded in striking down a blatantly discriminatory law, but how does it help LGBTQ people in the countries that the U.S. government bombs and occupies?
As our movement gains ground, we will have difficult decisions to make about its direction. I think more and more queer people are understanding that the goal of our movement should not to become “just like straight people.” If we’re going to achieve our liberation, the goal of our movement has to be the complete cultural, economic, and social upending of traditions and systems of power that oppress all of us.
DB: For younger LGBTQ people, or maybe people just coming out of the closet, how important is it to separate the corporate image of Boston Pride from something deeper that may still exist at the core of the week’s events?
EG: As a young queer person, there is nothing like being surrounded by thousands and thousands of other queers. That exhilarating feeling of knowing without a doubt that you are so far from being alone isn’t just a warm fuzzy sensation, it saves lives. Pride has a long history, and it is a part of our community’s identity. No matter how many corporate logos end up on the stage, or how many straight performers get featured over queer and trans acts, Pride can never be taken away from us. Pride is not just a party. It’s not just a festival. It’s not just a rally. Pride is more like a verb. It’s something we do. It’s something we have to work to create. It’s something we have to defend.
DB: Break The Chains seems to take on new ideas and a fresh personality—reinvent itself, if you will—nearly every time out. What’s so special about this installment?
EG: Break the Chains is all about using music, art, and dancing as a tool and a weapon in the fight for radical social change. Our goal is to highlight and elevate the voices of marginalized queer and trans performers that are so often left off the stage at events like Boston Pride. But queer experience is incredibly varied, which means that there’s a lot of variety in our lineups as well. We’ve had poets, afro-latin reggae rock troupes, a Navajo punk band, a singing riot-grrrl cellist. People come for the music, the politics, and the community, not because they want to be seen shoegazing to the latest cool new thing.
The party Break the Chains is presenting on June 3rd will be one of our most exciting yet. We’re thrilled to be bringing back Taina Asili y La Banda Rebelde, who have brought the house down at two previous Break the Chains, and who have a new music video that the media are calling a “Black Lives Matter anthem.” We’ll be moving from our usual spot at Make Shift Boston to the Milky Way for an even more dance-happy experience, and to allow us to party later into the night. This party will be an opportunity for queer people to come together before the hurricane that is Pride and center ourselves in the long fight for social justice that lays ahead. Expect booty shaking; but also expect revolution.
DB: For those who go from some of the more mainstream parties to yours in Jamaica Plain, what kind of shift in scenery might they expect, and how might they prepare for it?
EG: Break the Chains has its own culture that honestly amazes me every time. In a big city like Boston, the LGBTQ community can take itself for granted sometimes, and become cliquey or exclusive. When you come to any Break the Chains event, expect to be welcomed. Expect groups of people you don’t know to talk to you and invite you to join their conversation. Expect that the performers will be speaking and singing about more than just LGBTQ issues, and that there will be local organizations tabling with information on how to get involved in various activist efforts. Expect there to be announcements and signs about the importance of practicing consent on the dance floor. Expect people of a wide range of gender identities, ages, and abilities.
The biggest shift they’ll notice is that Break the Chains highlights the most talented nationally touring queer and trans acts in the country, with a big focus on elevating the voices of marginalized queer people and people of color. Everyone who plays on our stage is going to bring a high level of quality, and something to say.
Break the Chains at Milky Way / Bella Luna, 284 Amory Street in Jamaica Plain, at 9pm on June 3rd.