LOWELL — The commonwealth is home to almost 7 million residents with nearly half a million Bay Staters identifying as LGBTQ+.
June is Pride Month, which honors the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York City, when police violently raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar, igniting a riot that led to the gay liberation movement.
U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan kicked off Pride Month with a roundtable at UMass Lowell Thursday morning at which she heard from 15 community leaders who provide resources, services and support for the LGBTQ+ community.
She introduced herself to the group as an ally, saying that she was committed to standing “shoulder-to-shoulder with you” to create opportunities and safe spaces for people in her 3rd Congressional District, in the state and the nation.
“It is up to all of us to ensure that we are protecting the lives and livelihoods of LGBTQ+ citizens across the world,” she said, before opening up the floor to hear from the participants who worked in academic, governmental, health care, business and nonprofit sectors across the state.
Some attendees, like Isa Woldeguiorguis and Masada Jones, hail from Lowell. Both work at the Center for Hope and Healing, whose mission is to end sexual violence.
Junior Peña is the executive director for Student Diversity, Equity, and Belonging Initiatives at Fitchburg State University, whose work focuses on identifying biases and creating a welcoming space for students on campus.
Overall, all the members present spoke to elevating awareness and visibility of the community through their outreach and educational programs. They all spoke to feeling that Massachusetts was a leader in creating an equitable environment, even as they recognized financial, political and societal challenges to the effort.
Same-sex marriage was legally recognized in 2004, Maura Healey is the first woman elected governor in the commonwealth and the first lesbian governor in the U.S., and roundtable speaker Julie Chen is the first LGBTQ+ chancellor of the UMass system.
Chen said inclusion was one of the pillars of UMass Lowell’s four-point strategic plan.
“We are very conscious of making sure that everybody at this university feels like they belong,” she said. “So that you can be your best self here at this university.”
She cited a survey of undergraduates in 2022 in which more than 1,000 students identified as LGBTQ+.
“We want to provide whatever resources our students need so that they can be successful,” Chen said.
The city of Lowell was represented by City Manager Tom Golden who said the “city stands with all of you.”
“We want to make sure that everyone who comes to Lowell feels welcome,” he said. “To make people feel comfortable, safe and to want to be part of our community to build a better tomorrow.”
Members of the community said their work was threatened by white supremacy groups like the Proud Boys. Anti-LGBTQ+ groups like Mass Resistance and the Mass Family Institute are headquartered in Massachusetts.
Anthony Bovenzi is the president of NoWoCoPride, a gay and lesbian organization based in Fitchburg that produces events and activities in North Worcester and beyond.
“Massachusetts is great on many fronts, but (it) is also the biggest safe haven for white supremacist groups, and they are constantly threatening our Pride,” he told Trahan. “Right now, I’m receiving 10 death threats a week from white supremacist groups all over New England including Massachusetts.”
The organization works closely with state and local police to monitor the threats and increased their security budget.
“There are five white supremacist groups based in Fitchburg alone,” Bovenzi said. “The Proud Boys are based in Brookfield and Spencer.”
The gains made in trans rights are also threatened by racist-based groups operating in the commonwealth, said Dallas Ducar. She is the executive director for Transhealth, based out of Western Mass., which provides gender-affirming care for people across the state and New England.
Besides its medical services, the organization also trains students, doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners in gender-affirming health care.
Like Bovenzi’s NoWoCo, a portion of Transhealth’s budget also goes to security to protect against anti-trans threats.
“As a clinic we had to go silent until we received Homeland Security funding to be able to have safety,” she said. “We had to take our providers off the website.”
She said the threats represent an extreme, radical element with the majority of people expressing a bipartisan support for LGBTQ+ issues.
That was a position that Woldeguiorguis pushed back at, saying, “There’s a notion that white supremacists are the fringe. They are built off of a foundation of white supremacy in this country that has existed long before Proud Boys.”
In closing, Trahan said the conversation was enlightening and she was committed to elevating the work and partnering with the groups represented at the table.
“We’re going to continue leading with joy but being vigilant along the way,” she said. “We are partners in this effort.”
The city of Lowell kicks off Pride Month on Saturday, June 3, at 10 a.m., with a flag-raising ceremony and a performance by the New England Pride Colorguard Ensemble, in front of City Hall, 375 Merrimack St. The public is also invited to join the Colorguard and The Party Band as they lead a parade from City Hall to Kerouac Park, 75 Bridge St., for a noon to 4 p.m. festival. For information, call 978-674-1482 or email email@example.com.