The Pride Portland Steering Committee is drawing a line in the sand. When I wrote an op-ed castigating the old committee for ignoring the voices of the marginalized (“Maine Voices: Coverage of Pride parade a disservice to those who face discrimination,” June 20, 2017), I said they’d “adapt or die.” The newly elected members make up the most diverse Pride committee Portland’s ever had. They chose to adapt and thrive in a time of political and social chaos in America. I couldn’t be prouder.

The newly released (though under continuing revision) rules on corporate sponsorship and involvement by political candidates have ruffled the feathers of the old guard. Unfortunately for the moderate camp, none of them ran in the Pride elections last year. There’s been complete turnover, with new progressive leadership such as Quinn Gormley (MaineTransNet’s executive director) and Joey Brunelle (a 2017 at-large Portland City Council candidate) taking the helm. The co-chairs, Luis Rodriguez and Cybele Brandow, are lending their voices in advocacy for those who’ve felt unheard in previous years (people of color and transgender folks).

A recent Maine Voices column by Brian Randall (April 5) criticized the new committee, saying that it was excluding corporate sponsors. This is a false representation of the committee’s goals, as the organization continues to seek out ethical companies that support their LGBTQ+ employees and the larger community. Having a thorough vetting process for corporate donations demands businesses take note of the continuing challenges our community faces. It’s in our best interests to remind companies, and our other allies, that Pride is but 10 days out of the year. Being out as queer is a 24/7, 365-days-a-year proposition, with all the struggles that entails.

Some may argue that Pride should remain a celebration of our hard-fought victories of yesteryear, but this ignores our history as a movement with its genesis in the Stonewall riots of 1969. We were, are and always will be a declaration against the status quo by the very nature of our lives outside of the closet. Our manifesto must be built on racial and economic justice, as members of the LGBTQ+ community continue to suffer disproportionately from police brutality, homelessness and suicide. Consider that a significant plurality of those who are incarcerated at Long Creek Youth Development Center are LGBTQ+ identified. Consider the fact that many of those who seek support at the Preble Street Joe Kreisler Teen Shelter are also LGBTQ+ identified. Where were their voices during last year’s Pride? They should’ve been given a platform to share their stories of marginalization and oppression, given the resources to have their own events (with no cost barrier), and been allowed to actively challenge the powers that be.

The Pride Portland Steering Committee, to its credit, hosted two forums on the divisions in the community at the Portland Public Library. The March 27 meeting, at which I was not present, reportedly ended in raised voices and tears. I was able to attend the March 31 gathering with some 20 other young queer folks who wished to offer their support for Pride Portland’s new direction. The room was split nearly evenly, young from old, radical from moderate, sitting across from each other like two opposing armies.

This division is not new, as there have always been staunch assimilationists who oppose threatening the incremental victories by pushing for more radical change. This has been the case since the 1970s – one need only look at the disagreements in the community during the AIDS crisis. As we’ve seen with the rising debate on gun control, young Americans are no longer prepared to sit quietly by while people die. The same is true for those young queer folks who’ve lost friends because of an unkind and unjust society.

It’s time for the LGBTQ+ community to pass the torch. Those who’ve felt unheard in the past will be heard today. The rising star of queer liberation will reach its zenith in the coming decades, and no barriers from within or without will stop it.

Solidarity.

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