LETTER: Resident Explains Withdrawal from Human Rights Commission

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To whom it may concern,

It is with a heavy heart and disappointment that I am submitting my resignation from the inaugural Watertown HRC Committee.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve been a resident of Watertown since 2018. I credit Nicole Gardner for getting me looped into the community and caring about my neighbors. I’ve been an active moderator for the Facebook Buy Nothing Watertown South group for a few years and I was the 2023 recipient of the World in Watertown Social Justice Scholarship, so when Nicole reached out to me about applying for the HRC Committee, I jumped at the opportunity. I believed that with my multiple identities as a person of color, immigrant, and queer, I could give a voice to those underrepresented within our community. I formally applied for the HRC Committee and went through multiple rounds of interviews with town leadership, including a one on one with our town manager, George Proakis. I was excited to be a voice for our diverse Watertown.

That all changed after events of the past three weeks and the experiences I had where my voice was dismissed, minimized, and in some cases, ignored all together. What I saw as opportunity and responsibility to assist our community became an unbearable exercise in futility that left me feeling disrespected and disheartened.

What happened? I saw the marketing for the Watertown Pride Festival 2 weeks before the event. Listed as one of the headliners for the festival was Watertown native and transman drag king, Tee Sparks/Tyler Tuccio. Tyler Tuccio, I was aware has a physical assault charge on file in Watertown from 2015, involving assault on an elderly man, and I also have knowledge of troubling behavior attributed to this performer from within the queer community. I was shocked and troubled that this was who Watertown was choosing to uplift in our community as a role model, especially at an event presenting role models to our children.

This year, the pride festival came under the direction of the planning committee supervised by the assistant town manager, Steve Magoon. Multiple members of the Watertown community wrote letters of concern and questions about representation and transparency regarding the event planning to the planning committee, nearly all of which went unanswered. One response vaguely listed that there was representation from the LGBTQ+ community in event planning because PFLAG was utilized. I have a lot of respect for PFLAG, I literally sat on a discussion panel for them this past winter. But PFLAG stands for Parents & Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Parents and friends are assumably predominately heterosexual, therefore cannot be defined as direct representatives from the LGBTQ+ community as involved. The name of the organization literally centers the straight voices in queer lives. Why is this important? If the planning committee did indeed have representation from the community, then they would have been made aware that Tyler is very well known throughout the New England drag and queer communities having been banned from multiple spaces for appalling behavior, and would have unlikely considered him as an appropriate performer for this event. I strongly feel that lack of representation can lead to unanticipated outcomes and in this case, it could result in harm (possibly physical) being done to the community. It was this that led me to feel obligated to use my voice and communicate with as many town leadership people as possible, urging them to consider all the available information and cancel this performer for the event.

Despite multiple testimonials presented from individuals who have interacted with Tyler, some as recent as 2023, alleging REPEATED DISTURBING misconduct, Steve and George chose to minimize Tyler’s egregious acts saying “oh he’s just difficult to work with”, “we’ve spoken to him and have put the proper arrangements in place”, and “he’s just doing two 3-minute sets”. By the very act of putting him on stage at the festival, Watertown knowingly endorsed someone with a violent history and handed our vulnerable impressionable children and LGBTQ+ community members over to him. I had been told, “it is too late to change things now”, and was disregarded when I responded, “it is never too late to do the right thing.” Especially discouraging because there were alternate options, that were confirmed to be available. I had personally spoken with and confirmed that a trans black drag queen and current Watertown resident was available to perform in place of Tyler. She would have been more reflective of where the diversity of this town is headed and a statement of celebration for members of our community.

In my last phone call with George on Friday prior to the event, I pleaded with him as someone who is part of the marginalized queer community to please protect Watertown and that allyship is a verb. Anything else is performative and it wasn’t too late to do the right thing. He responded with that we will do better next year and that it would do more harm to make the change. My question to him was “more harm to whom”?

This experience, with the planning committee (from whom I never heard back), and more specifically with Steve and George, has left me with little confidence in the leadership in Watertown. My hope going forth for the town and for the HRC Committee is that they learn from this experience. It is imperative that members of the community be able to trust that planning committees and people in leadership roles have vetted someone brought into the community, especially one that is being promoted/celebrated or presented to impressionable minors to idolize. It is imperative that events that are being held to celebrate and/or represent a subset of our community include representatives from that community in the planning process. And it is imperative that the HRC Committee has a voice and is respected as representation for the community for this not to happen again. A performative committee will just be a waste of time for everyone.

In the meanwhile, I will continue being a social justice advocate and will be creating a training manual on how to put on an inclusive, safe, and respectful town Pride festival using Watertown as my case study. It is never too late to do the right thing. Ever.

Quyen Tran

20 thoughts on “LETTER: Resident Explains Withdrawal from Human Rights Commission

  1. Mr. Tran.

    I would love to sit down with you for coffee. I can be reached at 617-512-9477. I have had conversations with a young friend. I was reminded by him that I did not vote for the Human Rights Commission while I was on the Council. I guess it is from one’s frame of reference whether I was correct at the time. I told him recognizing that demographics have significantly changed in Watertown; today I would have voted for the HRC Committee.

    I do not know how the situation deteriorated to this point; however, what you describe is my understanding what HRC is designed to prevent.

    Your viewpoint is very valuable for the community and I would hope that you would return to the committee. Reading your experience, it is important for us to fix the committee so that all voices are heard. As long as a Committee Member is not placing the City in a liable place; they should be heard. The City Attorney’s comments that evening centered on the possibility of liability; thus, his recommendation re. establishing the HRC.

    You were attempting to protect the city and should have been listened to.

    Again, please do not give us. Give us a chance to help you in making HRC live up to its promise. It must have a degree of independence it lacks.

  2. I have a question please. I don’t know anything about this situation and I’d like to understand more. When you say “charge” what do you mean exactly? Do you mean arrest or do you mean conviction? Since you are a social justice advocate, surely you mean that the charges were upheld and there was a conviction – correct? Maybe the behavior you describe is really troubling – I have no idea because I don’t know this person, but there are a lot of generalizations in the letter so I thought I would respectfully ask.

  3. Thank you for speaking up about this issue, Quyen. What a loss for the town and a lost opportunity as well.

    I’m a parent who has previously attended Watertown Pride-and I’m also a supporter of the Boston drag scene. Tyler’s bad behavior and reputation are no secret to people in the community-I and many other former attendees reached out to the Pride committee after he was announced, asking about background checks and received no answer. Truly a shame.

    This is a classic case of “allies” centering themselves without understanding the fallout those of us in the LGBTQIA + community actually face from these decisions.

    (Really hoping the paper will also stop deleting comments).

  4. Hey, Watertown leadership: please WAKE UP and accommodate other people who are different from you! I haven’t heard your side of the story, but what this looks like is a bunch of straight white *men* assuming they know best (patronizing as well as ignorant). As a straight woman, I’m so sick of that I could vomit.

  5. Thank you Quyen for being both vulnerable and strong in making this decision and by explaining it publicly. What a loss for the commission to not have your voice- I value and respect your courage of conviction and I hope it is a model for others .

  6. As a member of the lgbtqia+ and drag community, it is incredibly disturbing to me that the Watertown HRC Committee would book a known abuser for pride after receiving multiple testimonials from victims, and even being provided with an available, alternative performer who is a current Watertown resident. If the HRC Committee’s existence is to, “promote human rights in Watertown through outreach, dialogue, educational forums, [and] the development of an Action Plan, serving as a resource to persons with concerns of discrimination within the City,” then why were our human rights, safety, and concerns of violence from a known abuser suddenly so disposable? How do we expect at this point to trust that the HRC Committee can actually hold up the responsibility of promoting human rights in Watertown or develop an Action Plan when Quyen’s dialogues were silenced and ignored, when outreach was made indirectly toward allies not lgbtq community members, when Watertown Pride knowingly headlined a performer with a history of violence? The HRC Committee effectively stated with their actions around Pride that it stands for human rights only when convenient for its committee members. I stand with Quyen’s decision to step down from this performative board. It is never too late to do the right thing, ever, and the HRC Committee had many chances.

    • The HRC Committee did not book the person in question for the Pride event. The article clearly states that the Planning Committee was in charge of booking Tyler for the even.

      The author of this article, who was on the HRC, tried to have the planning committee remove Tyler but to date it seems like that has not happened.

  7. Thank you for saying something—this is something that I too found troubling and when I said something, Tyler’s friends harassed me on social media.

    To anyone booking a pride event, if you do not have members of the community in your board or in your council, and you are not listening to them, you are not doing your job. People within performer spaces know about each other, and there is a reason why Tyler does not get booked in Boston. He has Intimidated and Assaulted people, backstage, and has a pattern of telling other drag kings what they can and cannot do with their drag, And taking credit for other people’s success.

    I am so sorry that people did not listen to you. You try to prevent this from happening. Sometimes that’s all we can do.

  8. It saddens me that this all played out the way it did. Proper vetting was not done, and not only did Quyen shed light on the problem, she provided a solution with a concrete plan to course correct, which was ignored… repeatedly. Because of that, Watertown has lost an excellent candidate for the HRC, and our community is worse off for it.

  9. I’m incredibly disappointed after reading this story. I can’t understand how our Pride event, meant to support and celebrate our LGBTQIA+ community, actually shut out the very voices it was supposed to serve. It makes our Pride celebration feel like a sham, a performance of support without actually being so. We can and should do better.

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