For years, friends Daniel Cushing and Michele Gillen talked about a way of combining their love of politics with their Dorchester neighborhood activism.
They knew that there must be others like them, gay residents in Dorchester, who would want to be part of a political neighborhood group, one that would speak out on issues close to their hearts, such as gay marriage and AIDS prevention.
With Dorchester full of so many fragmented sub-communities, Cushing, from Jones Hill, and Gillen, from Adams Village, decided to connect the Dots with a name and a face.
They founded DotOUT, a grass-roots political group, which today boasts 150 gay and lesbian members from Lower Mills and Ashmont to Jones and Meetinghouse hills.
With banners, flags, and political activism, they've made themselves heard in Boston's largest neighborhood, and politicians and candidates are listening.
All five candidates for former House speaker Thomas Finneran's seat, for instance, attended DotOUT's forum last January, in the back room of the Harp & Bard pub on Dorchester Avenue, answering questions from the group on same-sex marriage and discrimination. Afterwards, DotOUT members voted to endorse Linda Dorcena Forry. Forry won handily; still, the group considered the race its first significant political victory.
The group's formal political outing, so to speak, was in June 2004, when 20 members marched in the annual Dorchester Day parade on Dorchester Avenue. Waving an American and rainbow flag while pushing baby strollers, some 30 DotOUT members returned again this past June for the event, holding a banner that read ''DotOUT" to spread word about the group.
''We want the parade to reflect the neighborhood," said Ed Crowley, the clerk of the Dorchester Day parade committee for many years.
Crowley said he and other parade committee members didn't hesitate to welcome DotOUT to their event.
''These folks in the neighborhood aren't just neighbors, they are our friends," said Crowley, who knew DotOUT organizers from their past work in their neighborhood associations. In 2004, the annual ''Mayor of Dorchester" fundraiser connected with the parade featured its first gay candidate, and that news produced good press for the event, Crowley added.
''It's a positive thing for Dorchester," Crowley said. ''We want the parade to reflect the neighborhood, and in doing that, groups of people who wouldn't come to the parade in the past may come to watch the parade now. They will come down to support their group. Once they come down, they are there for the day."
The welcome in Dorchester was in contrast to South Boston, where an Irish-American gay and lesbian group was banned from participating in that neighborhood's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, a ban upheld by the US Supreme Court in 1995.
Most recently, DotOUT sent a questionnaire to each of eight citywide candidates for City Council, asking about issues such as gay marriage and abortion rights.
As gays have migrated to Dorchester from the South End, Jamaica Plain, and other parts of the city for more affordable starter homes, some of them have brought their rainbow advocacy.
''In a neighborhood like Dorchester, which is in transition, it's great for the visibility" of gays, said Andy Rohr, who bought a $279,000 three-bedroom condo in Jones Hill with his partner two years ago after renting in the South End. They joined DotOUT last year to be more politically active in their new community. ''People have these preconceived notions about what Dorchester is. It's a very diverse community, and we are part of it."
Cushing, a Massachusetts Water Resources Authority manager, has lived in his 13-room, two-family home since 1998 and has served as president of the Jones Hill Neighborhood Association. To him, DotOUT signifies a way of ''taking our seat at the table." The gay community in Dorchester has ''always been there," he said, though in a less visible way. In another area long considered traditional, OUTSomerville, formed in 1999 by gay political advocates there, has also been endorsing local and state candidates in elections.
This fall, DotOUT members mobilized a signature drive among Dot residents to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and establish civil unions. DotOUT collected 200 signatures and urged local neighborhood association presidents to lobby state Senator Jack Hart to vote against the measure.
Although Gillen has been active with the Pope's Hill Neighborhood Association and the Ward 16 Democratic Committee, she would not have imagined forming DotOUT 10 years ago.
''I don't think many people would have been comfortable doing this" a decade ago, said Gillen, who lives with her wife, Julie, and their two children, Ciara, 3, and Matthew, 9 months.
''There has been a shift in demographics and I think that plays into it," she said. ''We are the picture of the New Boston people talk about so much. We feel safe and comfortable here, and that encouraged us to organize DotOUT. We have a large minority population here and the gay and lesbian population in Dorchester has been increasing."
The 2000 Census figures highlight the South End as having the city's highest concentration of gay couples and Jamaica Plain as the bastion for Boston's lesbian community. While the Census did not ask directly about sexual orientation, it did ask people if they lived with an unmarried partner of the same gender. In Dorchester's Jones Hill, for example, the figures showed at least 30 gay and lesbian households, or about 2.5 percent of domestic partners in that census tract. Those numbers don't include single gays and lesbians.
Throughout Dorchester, gays' presence has been increasingly visible. Rainbow flags (a longtime symbol of gay pride) sail from the porches of triple-deckers, two-family, and Victorian homes in Jones Hill, Savin Hill, and Melville Park. Same-sex couples brunch on pancakes and turkey sandwiches Sundays alongside families of well-dressed church-goers at McKenna's coffeehouse on Savin Hill Avenue. Single gay men and lesbian professionals frequent the Harp & Bard pub and the Blarney Stone on Dorchester Avenue.
Rising property values in the city have given gays and lesbians another reason to look in Dorchester, for cheaper housing, as well as the diversity there of other minorities -- Vietnamese, Puerto Rican, Haitian, and Cape Verdean residents. Some gay residents have affectionately dubbed Dorchester ''the south South End."
''The word is out that it's a place that welcomes gay people," said Cushing.
In that spirit, DotOUT will host a get-to-know-us party Nov. 10 at the Blarney Stone restaurant to celebrate the group's work over the past year. The event is open to Dorchester community leaders and activists, straight or gay, interested in learning about the group.
''We have much more in common than we do differences with our neighbors in Dorchester," said Gillen. ''Almost on every issue, our neighbors see us standing there with them and see that we care."
Johnny Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.