PORTLAND, Maine — The city of Portland is hosting its first 10-day festival to celebrate the LGBTQ community and equality in Maine.
Organizers of Pride Portland kicked off festivities with a rally and press conference at Portland City Hall. The group was able to raise more than $40,000 dollars over the past four months for the 22 events they are hosting, which include dances, a 5K race, various socials, the Southern Maine Pride Parade and many other events.
Chris O’Connor, a co-chair of Pride Portland, said the festival began with a small group of people talking about ways to celebrate, but it quickly evolved and grew faster than he ever thought it would.
“We had faith that people were ready for something new, but weren’t expecting something as big as a 10-day festival,” O’Connor said. “Everyone has been so supportive, and I’m really excited to see how things go.”
“We are really only able to do this because of all of the incredible volunteers who have come out to help,” co-chair Jill Barkley said.
Barkley said Pride Portland saw regular growth in volunteers since the planning began in late January; more than 60 people contributed to the planning in one way or another.
“The community is so invested in this,” O’Connor said. “We’re so grateful for all the support we’ve had all the way.”
The festival had numerous sponsors, including The Inn on Peaks Island, TD Bank, State Theatre, Port City Music Hall, Coffee by Design, Bank of America and the Mike Michaud for Governor campaign. According to Barkley, the group wouldn’t have been able to gain so much support without the help of its nonprofit sponsor, EqualityMaine, an organization that works to secure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Maine.
“We are thrilled to be a part of Pride Portland and are so grateful to the event organizers,” said Elise Johansen, executive director of EqualityMaine. “Pride is an incredible opportunity to rally as a community and celebrate, and rally this group did. This is an example of how the LGBTQ community comes together and create beautiful things that are inclusive and grassroots.”
Johansen also pointed out that while there is a lot to celebrate in Portland’s LGBTQ community there is still much work left to be done.
“Pride Month is not only a time to take to the streets and march and celebrate, but [it] is also a time when we can reflect on the wins and triumphs we have worked so hard for and the work that still remains for the community,” Johansen said. “There is so much work to do to make equality real for everyone in Maine. We do not have full equality until every single member of our community no longer faces discrimination.”
Those notions were echoed by Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, who will be serving as a judge in the Pride Parade’s float contest.
“We have a rich history of supporting equality in Portland,” Brennan said. “It’s also true that there’s still work to be done. In particular, we have young people in our schools who are not safe. They experience bullying and other forms of harassment that we need to pay attention to. We know that even though the state of Maine has marriage equality and that we do not discriminate … that’s not true of every state in this country.”
He told those in attendance to celebrate but also to be mindful of the work that still has be done in the state, the country and the world to make sure everyone is treated with equality.
A full list of events can be found on the Pride Portland website.