Ten years ago, being able to raise the Pride Flag to mark Pride Month in Charlestown might have been a risky venture – many said last Friday afternoon while several community members raised the flag at Schrafft’s City Center for the second time in two years.
Had it been risky 10 years ago, it would have been utterly dangerous in the 1970s and 1980s when many gay men and women tried to navigate growing up in Charlestown while also being gay.
At Friday’s event, several long-time residents and life-long residents showed up to celebrate the occasion.
“Growing up in Charlestown in the 1970s and 1980s was very hard,” said Mark Florentino, who has been out as a gay man for more than 20 years. “You didn’t want to be known as the ‘fag.’ It was the way it was and it was very different than today…If any of us would have tried to pull this off 20 or 30 years ago, we might be dodging eggs. I might have been one of them throwing eggs too, but wishing everyone wasn’t throwing eggs. I’m happy to be a gay man and that this community supports that.”
Kevin McGonagle, who also grew up in Charlestown, said it was liberating to be able to come back and celebrate Pride.
“My father was Archie Bunker, he hated everyone,” he said. “It didn’t matter. I can’t believe 50 years later I’d be out her saying I’m a proud gay person. That’s liberating. I was a hockey coach for a long time and struggled with this and was in the closet. It was so difficult. I do feel so liberated now.”
City Veterans Agent Roberto Santiago – who served on the USS Constitution and in the Navy during a time when military personnel could not publicly say they were gay – shared a story about at his retirement, he couldn’t recognize the man who became his husband. He was told he could talk about him, but couldn’t say he loved him – the exact thing he wanted to say.
“Today I’m going to be going over to the USS Constitution to talk to the sailors there,” he said. “I’m going to ask them if they’re gay to raise their hands. Then I’m going to tell them that for 20 years I couldn’t do that while in service and now they can. I am a proud gay man and a proud veteran.”
Resident Elaine Donovan shared that her daughter came out to her as gay three years ago, and it was a journey.
“My first reaction was fear and I was scared for my daughter’s safety,” she said. “I think it’s horrific that at any point in anyone’s life they have to be ashamed of who they love or where they live or what they do. I grew up in the projects and for too many years I held my head down because of that. I will not do that anymore, and because of that, I encourage my daughter to tell everyone she is a proud gay woman.”
Others speaking included Councilor Lydia Edwards, Councilor Michelle Wu, State Rep. Dan Ryan, State Sen. Sal DiDomenico and Jerome Smith of the Mayor’s Office – who said as a gay black man struggling with identity he once contemplated suicide.
All said it was important not to just raise the Pride Flag at City Hall and celebrate downtown, but also to have such ceremonies in the neighborhoods where people live and see the effort more prominently.