“Pride, to me, means being comfortable and happy with who you are. It means respecting and accepting those around you and helping to create a safe space for those you care about. That includes listening and being willing to change your perspective so your friend feels heard!

“Pride (month) is also a great time to acknowledge and learn more about LGBTQ+ history and those who fought for our rights. Having the opportunity to understand the lives and efforts of people like Lili Elbe, Lena Waithe, and Sarah McBride makes me feel tremendous pride! We all need to be a part of creating a safer world for LGBTQ+ identifying people.”

— 24-year-old Rockland resident who identifies as queer, June 2019

It’s Pride month! Since June 1970, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender-non-conforming, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual people, allies and more (LGBTQIA+) have been officially embracing Pride with public defiance and celebration, stemming from the June 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York City.

Becca grew up in two households, going back and forth weekly between Camden and Rockland. In those days, starting in first grade (we’re talking 1983!), the Camden-Rockport school system was rampant with anti-LGBTQIA+ “jokes” and insults, along with racism, sexism, classism and ableism. Not only was it rare for teachers and administrators to intervene in the homophobic school culture, they were often active partcipants in it. It wasn’t until high school that any of Becca’s friends “came out,” and even then it was in cautious whispers within her circle of friends. To her knowledge, all the friends she grew up with who later came out as queer (an umbrella term for sexualities beyond “straight”), trans or gender-nonconforming have left the area. And don’t seem likely to return. Many of them now live where they can be fully out, and while nowhere is a perfect place to live, they have found a lot more acceptance, love, safety and support than they might have locally.

What is it like for kids here now? Will they want to remain in, or return to, the area? We’d love to think things are marvelously better. We now have gay/straight/trans alliances in schools, more rainbow flags flying, and an overall national culture that is more accepting and supportive. OUT Maine, located here in Rockland, is one of the most active LGBTQIA+ organizations in the state, with a focus on supporting queer youth. Unfortunately, as Executive Director Jeanne Dooley says, “Since the 2016 election, things are worsening in our schools, with increases in bullying and harassment. The GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) Maine snapshot shows the increase over the last three years.” GLSEN’s 2017 survey of queer youth in Maine shows that 87 percent of LGBTQIA+ students in Maine regularly heard anti-LGBTQIA+ remarks. Nine percent also regularly heard school staff make homophobic remarks, and 28 percent regularly heard staff make negative remarks about someone’s gender expression. Most LGBTQIA+ students in Maine were victims of anti-LGBTQIA+ harassment or assault. Nearly one-third of LGBTQIA+ students in Maine were disciplined for public displays of affection “that did not result in similar action for non-LGBTQ students.” And more than half of transgender students in Maine were unable to use the school restroom aligned with their gender. There are many more frightening statistics.

Dooley says that while there are now state court rulings and guidance from Maine Human Rights Commission about supporting LGBTQIA+ youth in school, “in too many instances these are not being followed, due to misinformation or a lack of information. Too many young people’s confidentiality is being violated as schools ‘out’ them to their families wrongly.”

What can the area do to better support LGBTQIA+ people, and particularly queer youth, who are especially targeted and vulnerable? Dooley suggested, “Encourage visible signs of support ... rainbow stickers, gender-neutral bathrooms.” We also recommend getting involved in the community as a mentor, flying the transgender flag, being aware of the assumptions you make about gender and sexuality, asking for pronouns, ensuring that schools have LGBTQIA+-inclusive sex ed and welcoming policies. Please don’t make “jokes” about trans people (a current favorite scapegoat of the right-wing), because while you may think something is harmless, people’s lives are at risk.

Rockland had an impromptu Pride rally this June, but it would be great if next year there were a more formally coordinated one. There’s already talk of having a rainbow crosswalk in Rockland for Pride 2020. And it’s not too late to get to Pride celebrations in Lewiston-Auburn or Bar Harbor, both on Saturday, June 29. Let your Pride, and your support for LGBTQIA+ people, show! “Your silence will not protect you.” – Audre Lorde

What are your experiences? Write us at limecitylove@protonmail.com.