One Boston? … And Justice for All

How Tom Menino tackled racial diversity and gay rights during his tenure as mayor of Boston.

tom menino race diversity gay rights

Photograph by Amy J. West

And Justice for All

When it came to equality for gays, lesbians, and the transgendered, Menino was ahead of his time.

Other politicians’ feelings about their LGBT constituents may have “evolved” over the years, but Tom Menino has been a stalwart supporter of gay rights since the day he took office. He has famously refused to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade because its organizers don’t allow gay-rights groups to participate. And it was 15 years ago that he extended benefits to the same-sex partners of city employees. He also supported gay marriage in 2003 and, last year, made national headlines when he spoke out against the homophobic actions of executives and foundations affiliated with Chick-fil-A.

“It is hard to imagine that LGBT people could have had a more rock-solid and devoted supporter for our lives,” says Ben Klein, a senior attorney at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. “His support for our community and his understanding of our lives is deep, and it’s always felt unconditional.”

Many in the community trace that commitment to Menino’s 40-year friendship with Harry Collings, a close colleague and confidant, whom he first befriended while working at the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Collings was one of many openly gay and lesbian staffers whom Menino pulled into his inner circle. “He’s always said it’s been easy,” Collings says, “because it’s the right thing to do.” After Menino became mayor, recalls Bay Windows copublisher Sue O’Connell, a veteran city staffer told her there were so many gay men at City Hall, “you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting one.”

In truth, Menino has been such a consistent supporter of gay rights that it’s rarely acknowledged. But O’Connell says Menino’s actions and policies should never be overlooked. “We would not have same-sex marriage in America if not for Tom Menino,” she says. “Boston has been an incubator for those ideas.”



For more of our look back at Mayor Menino’s time in office, check out “A Mayor in Full.”