Thursday, May 24, 2007

Boston Pride Board Member Outed as Sex Offender

We were informed of this a few months ago, and unfortunately The Weekly Dig beat us to the punch reporting it: The head of fundraising for Boston Pride, Bill Berggren is a convicted sex offender. He's also associate publisher of In NewsWeekly, a Boston "gay" publication. Yesterday, Boston Pride accepted Berggren's resignation from their organizing committee. But they also had no problem with his criminal record!

See the Weekly Dig, "Pride and Prejudice -- Sense and Sensibility? Not So Much" (5-23-07).

Berggren also has a long rap sheet. In 1998, he was convicted on child pornography possession charges, after a search of his Wakefield business by US Customs officials and local police. A story about the conviction in the Wakefield Daily Item reports that in 1991, Berggren also pled guilty to indecent assault against a 19-year-old. In 1985, he was found guilty of showing pornography to six teenagers. He was also found guilty on 10 counts of providing alcohol to a minor. Clearly, this stuff would be volatile information in the hands of someone like Brian Camenker... [ironically, we did have the info, just hadn't gotten it out yet -- but it's out now!] ...

Berggren, who is officially classified as a Level 2 offender (“moderate” risk of re-offending), doesn’t feel his record is an issue. “Everything I am doing is 18-plus events,” he says, tersely. “They know who I am, they know what I’ve done, and they appreciate my work. I have nothing to hide.”

Berggren’s history is clearly no secret in the volunteer circles in which he runs. “He’s not really secretive about it. A lot of people know,” says Keri Aulita, vice president of the Boston Pride board. “Their competitive paper could have broken it a long time ago.”

“It is a concern, but it is a concern everybody is aware of and everybody has addressed,” says Joblin Younger, who serves on the board of directors of the Friends of the Commission on GLBT Youth and is a former member of the Boston Pride Committee. “And it’s very seriously taken into consideration what situations Bill is allowed to be in.”

Boston Pride has contracted with the Human Rights Campaign to run criminal offender record information (CORI) and sex-offender record information (SORI) checks of all volunteers working in family areas. Sex offenders aren’t allowed. But it’s not a perfect system.

In part, the Boston Pride board’s policymaking comes in response to a 2005 incident in San Diego, when a conservative activist [James Hartline, ex-homosexual, now Christian activist, living with AIDS] ran the names of all the Pride volunteers through the sex-offender registry database and came up with a couple of matches. The resulting brouhaha brought a firestorm of unwelcome attention down on the event, and eventually, the Pride Committee acted to bar all people convicted of crimes against youth from volunteering.

Interviews with former and current Pride volunteers made it clear that the organization doesn’t consider Berggren’s sex-offender status an issue. The consensus is that he’s up-front about his history, he’s served his time and he doesn’t need reminding to stay away from the under-18 crowd.

That said: If Boston Pride thinks his position doesn’t reflect badly on Pride, on Boston and on the gay community at large, they’re in serious denial.

Bay Windows also ran this piece: "Bill Berggren resigns from Pride Committee" (4-25-07).

The Dig, quoting a 1998 report published in The Wakefield Daily Item, highlighted Berggren’s past run-ins with the law, including a 1998 conviction for possession of child pornography, a 1991 guilty plea to indecent assault on a 19-year-old and a 1985 conviction for possession of pornographic material with the intent to distribute it to minors. ...

Berggren told Bay Windows that he was “disappointed” by the fallout from the Dig article, but he chose to resign for the good of Boston Pride. He said the Pride Committee knew about his offenses, and he never made any effort to hide them.“I’m a little disappointed. I’ve never hidden anything about my life … I have a lot of support in the community. My phone has been ringing all day long with people telling me not to resign. But I feel at this time it’s the best thing for the community,” said Berggren, who in addition to his fundraising work also served as coordinator for the Boston Pride Idol competition. Berggren is associate publisher of In Newsweekly.