Monday, February 2, 1998


By Catherine Ivey, Of the NEWS Staff --

BAR HARBOR - It took Bruce Jacobson awhile to come out to his friends and co-workers about being gay.

On Sunday afternoon at St. Saviour's Episcopal Church here, the tall, slender man shared one story of why he has been reluctant. In 1995, he recalled, when Maine residents debated whether to ban discrimination based on sexual preference, Jacobson remembered sitting around the lunchroom listening to his colleagues debate the proposed law. He recalls some seemed to think it would have given gays extra protections.

"Those guys don't need special rights ... those gays. Pretty soon its going to be special rights for left-handed people," he remembers one person said.

These days, faced again with a similar ballot proposal in front of Maine's residents, Jacobson is speaking out against discrimination and the fear of it through a program called "Maine SpeaksOut." Started in 1995, the informal sessions are designed to give Maine people the opportunity to hear firsthand testimony about what its like to be discriminated against because of sexual preference.

On Sunday Jacobson and co-leader Tamara Duff led a small discussion group that centered on next week's statewide referendum when residents will decide whether to overturn a current law which prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations based on sexual orientation.

While some proponents of the referundum argue that gays and lesbians are asking for special rights, Jacobson doesn't. Gays should not be concerned that their employers will fire them or that banks could reject their loan requests. "Are these special rights? Not for me. I'd like to have them in my everyday life," he said.

Duff agreed. She's experienced the fear that homosexuals live with firsthand because both her brother and her son are gay. She recalled that her son, Paul, spent much of his high school years living in fear of being discovered as a gay teen-ager.

"He had a fear, the fear of the perception of being gay. He avoided sports. ... He didn't want to do anything that put him in the locker room, because in high school the locker room was a big place for harassment," Guff said. "He did very well in school, he had lots of friends, but he shouldn't have had to live in fear."

Recently, her son, who lives in Los Angele,s sent her a clipping from the newspaper about Maine's ice storms. It's headline, "Maine: No Power, No Problem," touched off a nerve for her. "I sort of fantasize about a different headline: 'Maine: Diversity, No Problem.' I hope we see that someday soon."

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