Gina and John Weed of Thorndike use a colored crosswalk on Main Street in Unity on Monday. The recent painting of four crosswalks in town celebrating Diversity Month has stirred controversy in town. David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

As the organizers of the first Pride month events in Unity prepared to paint four rainbow-colored crosswalks on Thursday, they expected 20 volunteers. Sixty showed up.

It was energizing, and two days later the celebration continued with a parade through town, said Colleen Maguire, co-founder of Diversity in Unity, the group behind the Pride events in this town of 2,100 people just east of Waterville.

“It was just joyous in the pouring rain,” she said. “It was wonderful.”

But in the weeks leading up to the event kickoff, a resident-circulated petition tried to ban Pride decorations on town property. Some residents posted comments on social media that questioned or outright opposed the events and the LGBTQ+ people they’re meant to celebrate.

In response, a website supporting the events posted screenshots of those comments and said they would not be taken down without public apologies.

“We expected a little bit of pushback,” Maguire said. “The level of venom has been a little surprising.”


This year’s Pride month comes as LGBTQ+ rights are under attack across the country, perhaps more than at any time since before a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down state bans on same-sex marriage.

Republican-led states, in particular, have pushed legislation to restrict the rights of transgender individuals. Around 500 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in state legislatures this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Although many have passed unchallenged, a federal judge last week ruled that a Tennessee law banning drag shows in public or in places where children could view them violates freedom of speech protections.

Many also have criticized businesses, including Anheuser-Busch and Target, for supporting the LGBTQ+ community. In Los Angeles, police had to break up fights between supporters and counter-protesters over a Pride month assembly at an elementary school.

An American flag and one representing diversity share a flower pot along Main Street in Unity on Monday. David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

Gia Drew, executive director of EqualityMaine, said those hosting pride events are “wise to be concerned about the uptick in anti-LGBTQ+ language and behavior across the country and in Maine.”

“We haven’t heard of any specific tangible threats, but there has been chatter in local communities,” she said. “We’re taking a very cautious approach. We want people to go and do what they want but also be on guard.”

Drew has been encouraged by the number of Pride events organized this year, with many communities hosting for the first time.


“This is historic,” she said. “This is local communities saying ‘We believe in equality.’ That is a really telling sign.”

Liz Kovarksy, one of the organizers of Bath’s first Pride celebration, said watching the national fight over LGBTQ+ rights has been heartbreaking. So much of it, she said, is driven by “extreme folks who have been given permission to speak out,” but the underlying issue is fear.

“One thing I’ve come across as a social worker is when people don’t know what different feels like, that’s scary,” she said. “But you already know all these people. They are in your community.”


Diversity in Unity was formed last year when local business owners and residents wanted to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in Unity and Waldo County. The intent is to put on events throughout the year that focus on inclusion, Maguire said.

“Visibility is incredibly important,” she said. “I think that’s what our focus is in all of this – education, visibility and a level of understanding that folks might not have access to in a smaller town.”


The response in Unity and nearby towns has been mostly positive and encouraging. Criticism of the events has come from “a few folks loudly in opposition,” Maguire said, but that hasn’t changed their plans.

“The irony is that the louder that handful of people got, the more people from outside the community decided to come to participate,” she said.

The petition circulated in town last month was signed by 90 residents, but it failed to “stop all decorating of Unity town property in support of Pride month.”

The first Pride parade in Unity on Saturday brought more than 200 people out to celebrate Pride month, organizers said. Photo courtesy of Diversity in Unity

A website called “Unity Doesn’t Hate” started posting screenshots of social media accounts where people criticized the Pride events. The site also includes scanned copies of the petition with the names and addresses of those who signed. No one responded to a message seeking an interview that was sent to the email addresses listed on the website.

Tim Parker Jr., a member of the Unity select board, said information about his family and where he lives and works were posted after he questioned a request for the town to chip in $1,000 to pay for Pride flags and supplies to paint crosswalks.

When Diversity in Unity presented its plans to the board this spring, organizers said there would be no cost to the town, he said.


Parker said he did not support using taxpayer money – and especially funds earmarked for economic development – to pay for the supplies. He said he offered to pay the $1,000 himself because he does support Pride events, but was turned down. Soon after, his information was posted on the website along with a screenshot from his Facebook page, where he posted about a flag he purchased and a line about saving himself money because his offer was turned down. He said that post was meant as a joke and he’s apologized if he hurt anyone’s feelings.

Parker said he and his family have been called racists and bigots and attacked on a personal level. People showed up at his house, and he has reported threats to police, he said. His information was later removed from the Unity Doesn’t Hate website.

“We have half the town mad at us because we’re not pushing conservative views, then we have another part of town mad because I’m bringing up the fact that it was agreed on at a meeting that there would be no cost (to the town),” he said.

Parker, who brought his family to the first Pride activities in town, said the debate is hurting people.

“I’m really sad because the way I look at it, there should be nothing but good conversations about how we have a town that wants to accept everyone,” he said.



Organizers of new Pride events in other towns have not dealt with the same criticism but say it’s important to show support for the LGBTQ+ community at a time when hurtful messages are so public.

For the first time, Gorham will celebrate Pride this year with a host of festivities – face painting, music, food, drag queen performances and story time – at the town gazebo on June 24. Jodie Keene, one of the organizers, said the goal was to keep it small and simple this year.

“We wanted to make sure that the queer community, and especially the kids in the community, know that we are not only accepted but loved, supported and celebrated,” she said. “Unfortunately, we had been hearing some hurtful messages at school committee meetings and on social media around LGBTQIA+ issues. We knew the best response was to share our messages of love more loudly than messages of hate.”

Traffic on Main Street in Unity on Monday passes a home with a sign promoting tolerance. David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

Keene said the response has been positive. Thirty volunteers have registered and several businesses have signed on as sponsors, including Hannaford and Maine Beer Company of Freeport.

“We truly are a loving and supportive community,” she said. “There’s always a chance that folks may show up to voice their opposition to our event, but we have been working with the Volunteers in Police Service and the Gorham Police Department to make sure that our event is a safe celebration for everyone.”

In Portland, where the annual Pride parade and festival are the largest in the state, a city spokesperson said she’s not aware of any complaints about Pride flags or events. Portland police don’t talk publicly about the security and strategy for large public events but do work closely with event organizers to ensure events are safe for people attending.


Brunswick is hosting its second annual Pride festival Saturday along the Town Mall on Maine Street.

Mattie Daughtry, a state senator, business owner and one of the organizers, said the town’s first Pride event last year exceeded all expectations.

“Brunswick always has had a tradition of taking care of each other,” she said. “If you look at the unanimous Town Council vote in support of Pride, from people of all different political backgrounds, I think that shows.”

That isn’t to say everyone is comfortable. Last year, two motorcyclists vandalized a rainbow-painted crosswalk by leaving tire marks. The town has since repainted the lines.

Daughtry said, like everyone, she has seen increased pushback from some over LGBTQ+ rights.

“I think when you see movements like that, it’s important to remember that you have to present to folks that everyone is welcome. You have to meet rancor with love and respect because everyone is coming from a different place,” she said. “If you let anyone put you in a box, that’s when you get in trouble.”

Kovarksy, one of the organizers of the first Pride festival in Bath, said there hasn’t been any pushback yet and she hopes it stays that way.

“I had fears about that because I live in this world and my eyes are open,” she said. “But that’s really why we’re doing it … to provide a safe place for people and to say, ‘You are not alone.’”

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