June is a month full of celebrations and social gatherings for members of the LGBTQ+ community, but in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, organizers from advocacy groups across the state have had to think quickly to modify events for Pride Month.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month is celebrated each June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots, an uprising that began at the Stonewall Inn in New York City and marked the beginning of the movement for members of the LGBTQ+ community to advocate for equality.

In an effort to keep Maine’s LGBTQ+ community connected during a time of social distancing, 12 organizations across the state have come together to form Pride Across Maine, a coalition that keeps members and allies up to date about online events and modified celebrations.

“Back in March everything was starting to shut down and we came together and thought of what to do,” said Sarah Haas, the LGBTQ+ community organizer for Health Equity Alliance. “So we thought, if everything is going to be virtual anyway, we might as well make this a statewide thing so we basically came together in that way.” 

The organizations of Pride Across Maine include: Pride! Portland, Bangor Pride, Pride L/A, Central Maine Pride, Northern Maine Pride, Hallowell Pride Alliance, Downeast Rainbow Alliance, Bar Harbor Pride, Dyke March Maine, Health Equity Alliance, Maine Transnet and Equality Maine.

CENTRAL MAINE

Though the Waterville-based Central Maine Pride group announced in April that its Pride parade would be postponed indefinitely, the group has joined Pride Across Maine and has its first online event scheduled for the upcoming weekend.

A virtual drag queen story hour will be hosted by drag queen Valerie Honeywell and will be livestreamed on the group’s Facebook page beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday. The event is presented by Central Maine Pride and Children’s Book Cellar located at 52 Main Street in Waterville.

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, 2019. The book store is one of the sponsors of a virtual reading by drag queen Valerie Honeywell on Saturday. Morning Sentinel file photo

The group has also worked with the Waterville City Council to come up with additional ways for the city to celebrate pride month, according to Bryan Evans, communications director for Central Maine Pride.

“We decided on raising a banner across Main Street showing their support for the LGBTQ+ community,” Evans said in an email Monday. “The council went above and beyond that and also will be issuing a new proclamation declaring the entire month of June Pride Month.” The council issued that proclamation Tuesday.

For Evans, celebrating Pride Month is crucial, even if it’s done online.

“It is so important to have these events even if it means only virtually,” Evans said. “People look forward to Pride every year. This event gives people a chance to be themselves without judgement and feel welcomed in their state. They can celebrate with friends and family at home while still staying safe.”

In addition to the coronavirus pandemic, a recent wave of protests against police brutality has intersected with Pride Month.

Following the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died in police custody on May 25, protests have been organized in cities around the world including Waterville, Portland, Lewiston, Bangor and Augusta.

For Evans and the members of Central Maine Pride, standing with protesters is vital.

“With everything going on in our country, showing solidarity right now for each other is essential,” Evans said. “Waterville has had multiple peaceful protests and has come together to support the black lives matter movement. We will continue to support our community in every way we can.”

Haas, who is also the co-chairperson of Bangor Pride, shared similar sentiments regarding Pride Across Maine’s stance on the protests.

I think we all have a responsibility to uplift most marginalized communities,” Haas said. “The first Pride was a riot in relation to police brutality, Stonewall was lead by trans women of color and we all have a responsibility to recognize our roots and understand we wouldn’t have these rights without them … Pride Across Maine is not trying to distract from what’s happening, we’re doing this to uplift and include our communities …” 

On June 28 1969, the gay-rights movement exploded when repeated police raids at the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in New York City, was met with resistance from club patrons and escalated into a series of riots that lasted six days.

One of the most notable figures in the resistance was Marsha P. Johnson, a black transgender woman who was a fixture in the gay liberation movement.

The one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots marked the first pride parade.

OUT MAINE

Out Maine, a nonprofit youth organization based in Rockland, has altered its programming to an online format to ensure young people across the state can still participate in the celebrations from home.

“We have moved to total virtual program … for LGBTQ youth around the state,” executive director Jeanne Dooley said. “Beginning on May 26 there will be regular programs running Monday through Thursday.” 

The organization is offering a young adult group for ages 18 to 22 on Mondays from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.; a youth group for age 11 to 18 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.; and a Dungeons and Dragons group for ages 11 to 22 on Thursdays from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The activities for the adult group will vary each week while the youth group activities include songwriting, poetry writing, photography and art.

“This gives kids the opportunity to have a community especially for kids who can’t get to programs and kids who can’t be out at home. Especially now, it’s so important,” Dooley said. 

STATEWIDE PARADE 

In lieu of in-person Pride parades, Pride Across Maine has teamed up with Coast 93.1 in Portland to present a virtual Pride Parade.

Beginning at noon on June 28, all of the organizations that make up Pride Across Maine and others that support the LGBTQ+ community will celebrate the end of Pride Month with a virtual parade that will include a mix of live and pre-recorded videos.

Participants are encouraged to send in video messages that will be added to the parade and streamed on Coast 93.1’s website.

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