|The late Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (Photo: Chuck Colbert)
by Chuck Colbert
Thomas M. Menino, Boston’s longest serving mayor and much beloved within the LGBT community, died Oct. 30 after a nearly year-long battle with cancer. His passing prompted local gay media to reflect on a remarkable pro-gay legacy, which included more than two decades of steadfast advocacy.
Sue O’Connell, co-publisher of Boston’s Bay Windows, offered her thoughts on the mayor’s legacy in a piece, “Menino: Gay Boston’s Tough Big Brother,” for Bay Windows and WGBHnews.org.
“As a Boston city councilor in the 1980s, Menino worked closely with gay people who worked in city government. He also interacted regularly with the gay neighborhood groups. It’s no surprise that this community, one that often lived in fear, rewarded Menino, the blue-collar policy guy from [the more conservative] Hyde Park [neighborhood], with unwavering loyalty. As Menino grew in power, his most trusted inner circle always had at least two gay people at the table. And he never took the community’s support for granted — he fought the battles brought to him, and looked for others.”
Early on, Menino refused to participate in the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade as long as openly contingents were banned.
“The first high-profile LGBT issue was an unlikely fight with the most powerful political neighborhood in Boston — Southie,” O’Connell wrote, referring to South Boston by its more colloquial name.
“He was asked at one of the first neighborhood meetings he attended as mayor if he would march in the traditional St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The organizers, the Allied War Veterans Council, had won a US Supreme Court ruling for the right to exclude gay groups from the parade. Menino told me that he glanced at his chief of staff — openly gay Ann Maguire — and blurted that if gays can’t march, he won’t march. ‘You should have seen the look on Ann’s face,’ he said. He had just told South Boston off. For Menino it was a double win — doing the right thing and avoiding parades, which he said he hated. He said he never worried about the political backlash. He never marched.”
The Boston Pride Parade was a different story, wrote O’Connell. “Menino often referred to the parade as ‘my parade.’ In a country where many gay groups fight to fly a rainbow flag on a city flagpole, Menino raised the rainbow flag at City Hall Plaza each year with pomp, led the Boston parade and allowed uniformed Boston Police officers to march. He opened Boston City Hall and hosted the Boston Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Youth’s (BAGLY) annual gay prom for teenagers at Boston City Hall.
“Regular-guy Menino’s support of marriage equality was an important cog in the machine that delivered gay marriage. He never wavered in his support, lobbying state lawmakers during the state house battles and later as co-chair of ‘Mayors for the Freedom to Marry,’ helping big city mayors get on board. On Monday, May 17, 2004, Menino proudly escorted the lead plaintiffs in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, Hillary and Julie Goodridge, with their daughter Anne, to the Marriage License window at Boston City Hall to receive the city’s first marriage license for a same-sex couple.”
For her part, Nicole Lashomb, editor-in-chief of The Rainbow Times, also based in Boston, recalled Mayor Menino’s integrity. She wrote in an editorial, “Perhaps most known for his overdrive and conviction to truth and fairness in a city that he loved, in a profile on a local news station, [Menino] said he wanted his legacy to be inclusion. He succeeded.
“Beginning as a city councilor, he supported HIV education and prevention and pioneered the first needle exchange program in [Massachusetts]. He fought on behalf of the LGBT community in a variety of ways. From refusing to walk in the traditional St. Patrick’s Day Parade since the LGBT community was not allowed open participation to addressing Dan Cathy, president of Chick-Fil-A, via an open letter reinforcing his position that the anti-LGBT equality chain would not be welcomed to establish one of its restaurants on Boston’s Freedom Trail. His written words to Cathy are still burnt in my mind: ‘Here in Boston, to borrow your own words, we are ‘guilty as charged.’ We are indeed full of pride for our support of same-sex marriage and our work to expand freedom to all people. … There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.’”
And yet, as O’Connell noted, the mayor’s bravado “was no doubt an overreach … threatening all sorts of unconstitutional action against a business due to the owner’s political beliefs — but classic Menino. He later backed off the threats, a national dialogue was launched, and there is no Chick-fil-A on the Freedom Trail. All of this made Menino a rock star in the LGBT community.”
Menino was elected to the office of the mayor five consecutive times and served from 1993 to 2014.
IN THE NEWS