Portraits of Pride intersects the past and future of LGBTQ history

By Ryan Yau, Assistant Living Arts Editor

At the intersection of Boston Common and the Public Garden, two of the oldest parks in America, lies the Portraits of Pride exhibition. The exhibition is itself an intersection in LGBTQ history, showcasing local queer leaders of the past, present, and future.

The exhibition hosts 22 large photographed portraits of Massachusetts-based LGBTQ figures across industries like public service, entrepreneurship, business, and law, among others. Each portrait includes a quote about what pride means to its subjects.

A secondary exhibition is being held at 60 Seaport Blvd, displaying smaller variants of each portrait. Both locations will be on display for the remainder of October.

The photos were taken by Olympic Games photographer John Huet. Boston-based filmmaker and immigration activist Jean Dolin is the creative manager of the exhibition. 

Though Dolin’s background is in documentary making, he opted to turn his idea into an exhibition as he could showcase more unique voices than could be achieved in a filmic medium. 

“Each person is very much standing on their own, telling an individual story,” Dolin said in an interview with The Beacon. “Choosing photography is the best way to do that, because you get to capture the person who they are—their essence, their beauty, or even their grace.”

The exhibition was slated to open in June for Pride Month, but due to missing sponsors, the plan fell through. Despite the setback, Dolin was determined for the exhibition to open this year.

“There’s just so [many] attacks on [LGBTQ] folks in literature and curriculum, and trans women, specifically black trans women being killed,” Dolin said. “I just knew this exhibition needs to happen this year. I put everything I had into it and it’s happening now.”

The exhibition opened in October for LGBT History Month—fitting, as one of the goals of the portraits is to showcase older figures in the community alongside younger ones.

Among the featured older generation of LGBTQ leaders is Elyse Cherry, who is the CEO of BlueHub Capital, a nonprofit that works to finance community development programs. Her portrait’s quote reads: “As a lesbian who came out in the late 1970s, I was considered a criminal. Now I’m a Portrait of Pride. Onward!”

Besides community development work, Cherry has been involved with activism since she was 19. Studying law at Northeastern, Cherry was dissatisfied by the negative way her professor taught gay rights—he told her she should teach the class. So she and three others took it upon themselves to course-correct.

“We decided to put together what was the first ‘gay rights in the criminal law’ presentation, and then other people in my law school class started taking on other pieces: gay rights and family law, gay rights and contract law,” Cherry said. “By the time we were done, we had actually put together the first course curriculum.”

Another figure featured is David Leonard, president of the Boston Public Library. The library seeks to respond to the technological needs of today and to encourage younger people to take advantage of the library’s resources, and most importantly to increase inclusivity.

“Today, my work at the library is serving everybody,” he said. “But Jean’s work was a reminder that there were important parts of my life I was more directly connected to working in the [LGBTQ] community.”

The youngest person featured in the portraits is 17-year-old Alia Cusolito, who got involved with activism after lobbying their school for a gender-sexuality alliance club. They co-founded Queer Youth Assemble, a nonprofit that focuses on community events for queer youth.

In March, the Assemble started a national school walkout as a response to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill and Texas’ anti-transgender directive. The walkout was a success, amassing over 10,000 participants. They plan to focus on community spaces for queer youth.

Dolin’s goal was to create a visible showcase of LGBTQ leaders in the community, and there was no place more visible to Boston than the Common.

“What I want to say with the exhibition is that the [LGBTQ] community exists everywhere, in every field, in every end of the society,” Dolin said. “It doesn’t matter what color you are, it doesn’t matter what gender you are or if you do not relate to any gender at all. The fact there is humanity in you is all you need to exist and all you need to succeed in any spaces that you choose to.”

The exhibition upholds current LGBTQ leaders in Massachusetts and serves as a generational bridge for the community. While some of those featured in the portraits already knew one another, the opening celebration of the exhibition allowed younger generations to connect with key figures in the community.

“There’s a ton of work to be done and movements need intergenerational support, or they just fade out,” Cherry said. “I’m just thrilled that folks like Alia and a lot of the other folks who are participating in this are out there pushing forward.”

However, visibility is not everything—though the portraits are a great gesture, Cusolito emphasizes the importance of direct action.

“They still need the resources that have been denied to them for so many years,” they said. “We need to push for more resources and inclusive education in our schools, and for changing policy so that people can actually freely exist in the world.”