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Community unites after an LGBTQ+ senior housing project in Boston was defaced

Gretchen Van Ness, executive director of LGBTQ Senior Housing Inc, said the hateful messages were discovered early Sunday morning.
LGBTQ Senior Housing Inc
Gretchen Van Ness, executive director of LGBTQ Senior Housing Inc, said the hateful messages were discovered early Sunday morning.

The road to building The Pryde, a Boston housing development aimed at LGBTQ+ seniors, has been surprisingly smooth. That's what made last weekend's homophobic vandalism all the more shocking.

"It was more horrible than I ever imagined it could be because every single one of our banners and signs that we had put up for the groundbreaking had some sort of of graffiti and hateful language and threats painted on it," Gretchen Van Ness, executive director of LGBTQ Senior Housing Inc, one of the groups behind the project, told NPR.

Among the slurs and death threats covering the perimeter of the construction site, which takes up nearly an entire city block of the Hyde Park neighborhood, were messages saying, "We will burn this," "die slow," and "die by fire."

Gretchen Van Ness, Executive Director of LGBTQ Senior Housing Inc., told NPR the death threats covered every banner and poster around the perimeter of the construction site.
/ LGBTQ Senior Housing Inc
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LGBTQ Senior Housing Inc
Gretchen Van Ness, Executive Director of LGBTQ Senior Housing Inc., told NPR the death threats covered every banner and poster around the perimeter of the construction site.

"This was just heartbreaking for the community and for all of us who love this building and love this project," Van Ness said, explaining that the graffiti was spray painted either late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.

But just hours later, that heartbreak turned into "a phenomenal experience," she said.

The attack has brought the surrounding community together and city leaders, including Mayor Michelle Wu, immediately condemned the vandalism.

On Sunday, more than 100 supporters of the 74-unit housing project showed up with their own signs welcoming future residents of the space, and ready to help and cover up the anti-gay rhetoric.

"By the end of the day, it was the best possible day because we knew that we needed to do something to stand up to these bullies and these threats, because essentially bullies are cowards and they should be ashamed and we refuse to let them shame us," Van Ness said.

Within hours of the attack, community members arrived at the construction site with their own homemade signs to cover up the hateful graffiti, Gretchen Van Ness told NPR.
/ LGBTQ Senior Housing Inc
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LGBTQ Senior Housing Inc
Within hours of the attack, community members arrived at the construction site with their own homemade signs to cover up the hateful graffiti, Gretchen Van Ness told NPR.

Meanwhile, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu also responded on Twitter, writing, "Hate & acts of vandalism will not be tolerated at the Pryde — or anywhere in Boston."

"This affordable, LGBTQ+ senior housing development has been led by local residents, boosted by neighborhood voices & fueled by united support. We will move even faster to get it done," Wu said.

Van Ness noted that the attack has not slowed or impacted construction at the site – a century-old elementary school that's been vacant since 2015.

Boston Mayor Wu also responded to the anti-LGBTQ attack on Twitter, writing, "Hate & acts of vandalism will not be tolerated at the Pryde — or anywhere in Boston."
/ LGBTQ Senior Housing Inc
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LGBTQ Senior Housing Inc
Boston Mayor Wu also responded to the anti-LGBTQ attack on Twitter, writing, "Hate & acts of vandalism will not be tolerated at the Pryde — or anywhere in Boston."

The anti-LGBTQ incident at The Pryde follows a pop-up protest by members of a white nationalist hate group called the Patriot Front less than two weeks ago.

About 100 members marched along Boston's Freedom Trail, wearing white face coverings, navy blue shirts, and khaki pants. The sudden parade appeared to have caught local law enforcement off guard, according to Wu.

People bearing the insignia of the white supremacist group Patriot Front stand in front of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square on Saturday, July 2, in Boston.
Michael Dwyer / AP
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AP
People bearing the insignia of the white supremacist group Patriot Front stand in front of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square on Saturday, July 2, in Boston.

The group has chapters in over 40 states, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. (Last month, 31 members from 10 states were arrested near a Pride event in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, on a charge of conspiracy to riot.)

Van Ness said she and her team are organizing a community meeting for sometime later this week or next, to assuage the fears of elder LGBTQ+ Boston residents. For now, the Boston Police Department has stationed at least one patrol car at the site, she added.

When asked if eligible Pryde residents might be afraid to move in, Van Ness said the recent defacing and subsequent media coverage has actually led to greater interest in the housing development.

"We have gotten nonstop inquiries from across Massachusetts since Sunday, saying, how do I apply? I want to come live there," she said.

"So, I mean, whatever the cowardly vandal tried to do, if they thought they were going to stop us, they had the absolute opposite effect."

For those who might be ready to pack their bags, she said, "we want to let everybody know that the housing lottery will open next summer."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.