Portland Pride Week adds diversity, draws criticism

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PORTLAND — The rainbow flag will extend along Congress and High streets June 16, but Pride Week in Portland is adding some new colors to the celebration.

“I feel excited, empowered, and driven – driven by the positive response we have gotten from the community,” PridePortland! Steering Committee co-chairman Luis Rodriguez said Monday.

New events and outreach to a wider variety of sponsors bolster inclusion, he said.

“This is not about one side of the community,” Rodriguez said. “It is about making it accessible to everyone.” 

But the new directions and decisions have left some like Blake Hayes, a co-host of the morning show at WMGX-FM and the station’s assistant brand manager, feeling left out personally and professionally.

“My concern in the entire planning process, this year’s committee, in lifting up some communities, they have excluded some communities,” Hayes said May 31. “Pride is about raising everyon’e voices together, not choosing which voices get to sing.”

PridePortland! events begin with a prom at the Woodfords Club, 179 Woodford St. The week will be capped by the annual parade along Congress and High streets and the festival in Deering Oaks Park.

There are new events that Cybele Brandow, a steering committee co-chair, said were created to give stronger voices to those who have felt marginalized.

“One of my values is, at the moment, prioritizing the people who are weakest, and prioritizing the fringe,” Brandow said.

Those events include a Trans Picnic and Protest on Sunday, June 10, from 2-5 p.m. in Lincoln Park, and a Coming Out Story Night June 12 at 7 p.m. at Space gallery. On June 15, there will be a Dyke March from 5-7:30 p.m. at the Equality Community Center, 511 Congress St.

Space will also host a June 11 LGBTQ Health Conference and Testing Clinic from 2:30-5 p.m., with free screenings and results counseling.

Hayes said the community’s struggles and precarious nature of the rights need recognition and emphasis, but he worries about a loss of balance.

“It is and should be a mix of pride and protest, but the celebratory events are really cut back,” he said.

Hayes also lamented the fact that his station will not be a sponsoring voice this year, in part because it has always been a welcoming supportive environment allowing him to be himself on the air.

“We all have the same goals, better livelihoods and equality for all of us,” he said.

Meagan Lauer, who leads the PridePortland! fundraising, said the station never filed an online application for sponsorhip, but Hayes said it seems the steering committee was uninterested in having WMGX take part.

Joey Brunelle, who led marketing for PridePortland!, said he did set out in a different direction. 

“One change we made this year was to think about how our brand was being used in conjunction with other brands,” said Brunelle, who is also a Portland City Council candidate.

Brunelle said he was concerned about commingling logos with sponsors, specifically.

“That was not kind of relationship we were interested in this year,” he said.

Brandow, Rodriguez and Meagan Lauer, who leads the PridePortland! fundraising efforts, said there is no intent to marginalize any members of the community while being welcoming to all.

Yet Brandow noted there may be a shift in outlook.

“What that is going to look like is taking some attention from the people who have had all the attention, because attention is a finite resource,” Brandow said.

The contention within can be a benefit, Brandow added.

“Conflict is one of the most powerful tools for empowering a community and bringing (it) together,” they said.

Within the new events and focus, Brandow said one took flight almost innocuously. At 9 a.m. Saturday, June 11, Maine Audubon on Gilsland Farm Road in Falmouth will host Gay Birding 101.

“It redirects perspective to environment and has all of us in nature together,” Brandow said. “It came together in two emails and was an immediate click.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

The annual Pride Portland parade takes place June 16. Organizers hope the weeklong celebration leading to it will be more welcoming to the entire LGBTQ+ community.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.