Huskies run in packs. Last Saturday was different, though. Making like lions, these particular Huskies came together in Portland under a banner of pride. They were far from alone.
A group from the University of Southern Maine joined about 90 other organizations by marching in the Pride Portland! parade to support and celebrate the local LGBTQ community. The joy they radiated was reflected back at them from the roadside by the cheering crowd, estimated by the Portland Police to encompass more than of 15,000 people.
“I am a USM alum and I know that USM prides itself on being a safe and supportive environment for everyone,” said Justine Ravenscroft, head of marketing for Pride Portland! “I think it’s particularly important for the younger generations to see that their institutions are behind them, accepting of their identities, and looking to make positive changes.”
One of the people helping to lead that charge at USM is Bryan Spaulding, a third-year Theatre major. He came to the parade in his drag persona of Letta, wearing a blue gingham dress and fishnet stockings. Spaulding marched at the front of USM’s delegation between two banners emblazoned with #USMhaspride.
“To me, Pride means that I can be my full, authentic self,” Spaulding said. “We have come so far with our rights and equality, but remembering that we still have a long ways to go.”
Following close behind Spaulding were about 40 members of the USM community. In a show of solidarity, most of them wore matching blue t-shirts with a picture of USM’s husky mascot sporting a rainbow bandana.
The USM marchers waited for the parade to start at their designated staging area on Brown Street, crammed between groups from the University of New England and the University of Maine School of Law. Each new arrival received a warm welcome even though it made the tight quarters even tighter.
“I was blown away by the number of students, faculty, and staff waiting to represent USM,” said Dean of Students Rodney Mondor. “This is the start of my 25th year at USM, and I am continually impressed with how USM stands in support of the LGBTQ+ community.”
The excitement had been building for two years. Like so many public events, the parade went on hiatus during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic before vaccines were widely available. The raucous energy that came out on June 18 contrasted with the relative silence along the empty parade route in 2020 and 2021.
Silence is not an option for many of the marchers who have a hard time finding acceptance outside of Pride. Advocacy groups like EqualityMaine and MaineTransNet featured prominently in the parade. Their work to promote the health, safety, and dignity of the LGBTQ community is a year-round commitment.
“We still have a lot of issues in the community, especially when it comes to transgender rights,” said Hilary-Lynn McCabe, Resident Director of Robie Andrews Hall. “The murder of so many trans women in our country right now is such a tragedy and we really need a fix as a community and a country.”
Marchers set off at 1 p.m. from Monument Square and proceeded up Congress Street to Congress Square Park. A sharp turn onto High Street sent them into Deering Oaks Park, which marked the end of the parade but not the celebration. A festival atmosphere with music, drinks, and vendors continued through the rest of the afternoon.
The Pride Portland! parade is held annually during LGBTQ Pride Month. The observance developed out of a series of events that were organized to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall riots which took place on June 28, 1969. The riots broke out when patrons of gay and lesbian bars in New York city fought back against police harassment.