It all started last fall, when Jill Barkley and Chris O’Connor started talking about Pride, which was clearly at a point of transition. Locally, enthusiasm had waned; people wanted more, they wanted bigger, they wanted a say. So Barkley (whose day job is as executive director of Emerge Maine, the organization that recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office) and O’Connor (director of student life at the University of Southern Maine), invited members of the community to a exploratory meeting. They didn’t know what to expect. Seventy people showed up, full of ideas and excitement. Barkley and O’Connor thought, “we’re not alone.”
From the outset, O’Connor says, they were “foward-focused” — they had to be, given that they were basically starting from scratch — and committed to being as inclusive, positive, accessible, and transparent as possible.
“Chris and I are not controlling this event,” Barkley says. “We are saying ‘yes.’ It’s about the community all feeling like they have a stake in this. We knew if Pride was an open, inclusive event, people would get involved.”
Just three and a half months later, they’d built a team of more than 100 volunteers and dozens of sponsors, all working to organize and promote 10 days of events. That’s a lot of saying yes.
And there are dreams of making it even bigger. Of establishing a year-round presence, and hiring paid staff. Of creating partnerships with Maine tourism officials and making Portland an annual Pride destination not just for locals but for visitors, too. But those ambitions will have to wait. For now, there’s fun to be had, victories to celebrate, and dancing to be done. Find more about any of these events at prideportland.org.
Friday, June 13
It all begins after work on Friday the 13th, with the Raising the Rainbow celebration and rally (location TBA). Then, if you’re an LGBTQ/questioning/allied youth between the ages of 14 and 22, head over to the Portland Outright Prom, which, like other queer proms around the country, gives attendees the freedom to bring who they like and wear what they want — a basic right not necessarily afforded at all high schools. Expect a spooky theme (in keeping with the date) and a surprise alternative to the traditional prom court pageantry. Cost is a flexible $15 (sliding scale; pay what you can). That’s at 7:30 pm at the Holiday Inn by the Bay, 88 Spring St., Portland. If you’re 21 or older, go put on your most sparkly, most sexy, most spandex outfit and boogie down to the Requiem for the Disco: Pride! Portland Kick-Off Party at Grace Restaurant. With performances by Cherry Lemonade, Atomic Trash, Haus of Paradigm, Lady Zen, A Severe Joy, Aquarius Funkk, 90 Minute Blonde, Stripwrecked Burlesque, and the Marquesa Gigi Gill, this is bound to be an outrageous opening salvo to the week’s festivities. $10 in advance or $15 at the door; starting at 8 pm. 15 Chestnut St., Portland. But pace yourself — tomorrow’s a busy day!