WATERVILLE — Fifty years after the historic Stonewall riots — a catalyst of the gay liberation movement — LGBTQ communities and allies across the nation will celebrate a particularly momentous Pride month this June.

There are 10 festivals planned throughout Maine this year, with Waterville-based Central Maine Pride among the first. Events will kick off Thursday evening with a screening and discussion of the documentary “Stonewall Uprising” at Railroad Square Cinema and extend through Sunday afternoon with an outdoor festival at the Head of Falls.

“There’s no better place to start a celebration than with remembering how we got here,” said LGBTQ historian and professor Howard Solomon,  one of five panelists who will discuss “Stonewall Uprising” after the screening Thursday night.

Howard Solomon

“(At the time of Stonewall), we were out there on our own,” Solomon said. “The definition of being a homosexual, until 1973, according to the American Psychiatric Association, was that we were pathological; we were sick. One of the things that the Stonewall Uprising did … was provide a model for those of us LGBT people who had had enough of living in the closet, of not being able to speak out and be who they were, to come out of the shadows.”

This is the fifth year Central Maine Pride has hosted the Waterville programming in collaboration with the Kennebec Valley Queer Coalition and a handful of other organizations.

“Central Maine Pride is such a big deal because there’s not a lot of community necessarily for LGBTQ+ people (in the area),” said Josh Herman, the communications chair of Central Maine Pride. “We don’t have gay bars, we don’t have a lot of gay socials or social clubs and there are not a lot of places to gather. For us, it’s really important to have this event every year. It’s about the rural Maine LGBTQ+ community — supporting each other and creating a welcoming space for us to gather. Regardless of who they are and how they identify, we want to provide that space for them to feel welcome.”

Herman said that while last year drew roughly 300 people, he expects “even more” to attend this year. He noted that Waterville presents an ideal location for people who are unable to travel as far north as Bangor or as far south as Portland, where some of the state’s other Pride festivals occur.

The Colby College Museum of Art will host a catered opening reception Friday evening, where guests can go on a free guided tour of the “Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness,” exhibit. Curator Beth Finch called Muholi a “contemporary photographer and visual activist,” whose work focuses on representing LGBTQ communities in Muholi’s home country of South Africa. The exhibit, which opened earlier this year and will close June 9, also features self-portraiture.

“We’re so excited and honored to welcome Central Maine Pride to the Zanele Muholi exhibition,” Finch said. “We see their role as essential, and there’s an international connection from their work to an artist working in South Africa with similar aims to support their community.”

Malcolm Porter, a psychic medium and owner of Enchanted Herbs & Teas in Waterville, is seen in a mirror at his store in downtown Waterville on Wednesday. Porter will offer tarot card and tea leaf readings this Saturday as part of the Pride celebrations. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

Saturday features a Drag Queen Story Hour at the Children’s Book Cellar, a high tea event at Enchanted Herbs & Teas down the road on Main Street, a community social at the Pleasant Street United Methodist Church and a second film screening at Railroad Square Cinema, “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.”

Malcolm Porter, an owner of Enchanted Herbs & Teas, is offering discounted tarot or oracle card readings ($10) and tea leaf readings ($5) from 2-4 p.m. Saturday. High tea guests will also be able to sample some of the store’s 37 tea flavors and “other menu items like tea sandwiches and tea cookies” for free, he said. Drag queen Valerie Honeywell will socialize with attendees.

Malcolm Porter, a psychic medium and owner of Enchanted Herbs & Teas in Waterville, begins a tarot card reading on Wednesday. Porter will offer tarot card and tea leaf readings this Saturday as part of the Pride celebrations. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

“We basically use our intuition to interpret what the cards mean to the person (receiving) the reading,” said Porter, who has done psychic card readings for nearly 10 years. “The cards can mean different things at different times for different individuals. Basically, we gain information from spirit guides and use intuition to help understand what (a person) has coming in life events and enable (that individual) to make changes to positively or negatively influence outcomes.”

The community social will feature “food, games, music, a clothing exchange and free HIV testing available from the Health Equity Alliance,” according to Herman.

Sunday’s festival, which will run from noon-4 p.m., is, as Herman described, “a free, family-friendly event, open to everyone.” There will be carnival games, Zumba, a fusion belly dance performance, a skit by Waterville’s Out & Allied Youth Theatre and musical acts that will include Elizabeth Leonard singing an original song about Stonewall.

Unlike at other Pride celebrations, there will not be a parade.

“Forty-seven different organizations are registered to have tables at the festival, and they range from vendors selling their wares to organizations with information tables, community art projects, photo booths, a couple of food trucks there this year in addition to free hot dogs that we always offer,” Herman said of Sunday’s festivities. “There will be drag performances as well.”

Monroe’s Stone Fox Farm Creamery will be offering ice cream and, new this year, The Lost Wombat Food Truck, out of Oakland, will serve German/Turkish fusion dishes.

If it rains, Herman said the festival could be postponed or end early, though the group has not made any final decisions yet about rain plans.

 

Ellen Richmond, owner of the Children’s Book Cellar in Waterville, holds a copy of the book “Pride,” based on the murder of gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk, on May 13. Drag queen Valerie Honeywell will read at the bookstore on June 1 during Waterville’s Pride celebration. “I want to educate people about other lifestyles,” Richmond said. Morning Sentinel file photo by David Leaming

BACKLASH

Of the seven events planned for the weekend’s Pride celebration, the Drag Queen Story Hour has drawn outsized attention. Earlier this month, a handful of individuals announced plans to protest the event, which will feature drag queen Valerie Honeywell reading a story to children and then assisting them with a wand and crown-making craft.

Brittany Bertocchi, one of the protest organizers, said she thinks the event is inappropriate for children, who would “get confused easily” by a biological male performing exaggerated femininity. Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro also expressed disapproval for the event, calling it “scandalous to our little children” in a comment on the Maine Conservative Grassroots Facebook page.

Jackman Town Manager Thomas Kawczynski sits alone amid Jackman residents as he awaits the selectmen’s decision to fire him in January 2018. Kawczynski, who has called himself an advocate for “white civil rights,” has tweeted that he will protest the drag queen reading at the Waterville Pride Celebration Saturday. Morning Sentinel file photo by David Leaming

Though Herman said the resistance seemed to “be fizzling out,” a social media post from Tom Kawczynski last week added another voice of opposition. Kawczynski wrote that he “will definitely be in the field to oppose the drag queen story hour.” Kawczynski was fired from his role as the Jackman Town Manager last January after he publicized racist views online, including advocating for racial segregation.

“You don’t get to normalize gender fluidity and pedophilia for a 3 to 8-year-old audience without people speaking out,” he wrote.

Despite the pushback, bookstore owner Ellen Richmond said the event is intended to embrace diversity and inclusion and said she would not cancel it. Waterville resident Elizabeth Leonard organized a counter-protest to support the story hour.

Herman said he was not aware that Kawczynski had spoken out against the story hour and noted that he is “not expecting any issues with (the protest) to arise.” Richmond informed Waterville police of the situation.

Porter added that, to avoid further controversy, he and the Central Maine Pride committee decided to rename the high tea event at his shop from “High Tea with the Queens” to just “High Tea.”

“We understand that there are gonna be people who disagree and people planning to protest, but we still plan on having the (story hour) event — and all of our events — because we think it’s important to make sure we have a solid community and support for LGBTQ+ people,” Herman said.

“We’re not going away even though some people disagree with everything that we’re doing.”


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