Influence is a matter of perception, degree and context. One person's list of influential historical figures might include Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr. and Elvis Presley. Another's might encompass Al Capone, O.J. Simpson and Typhoid Mary. Whether by their attributes or their actions, some people inspire those around them to excel and achieve. people, often unrecognized, have worked for 20 years exerting their influence to make this a reality.
by Rick MacPhearson
That's why CBW decided to dedicate its Pride Issue to those queer Portlanders who are considered by their fellow queers to be the most influential. These are people who promote our strengths, exemplify leadership and by their actions generate influence both within and beyond Portland's queer community.
Composing lists is a tricky business. As soon as you pick some names out of the pack, someone's going to get pissed off - either by being included or by being excluded. It's almost a no-win scenario. But, being either thick-skinned or stupid, I forged ahead. Over the past several months, I systematically inserted the same question into any conversation I had with queers around town: "So, who would be on your list of influential queers in Portland?" After collecting names, I compiled the list and looked for commonalties. I took the frequency of appearance of names to be an indicator of influence.
Is this a random, scientific sample? Nope. It's a sample of the opinions of queer people I talked to. Hardly statistically precise or controlled, but close enough.
"I guess you can say that I'm just an old soldier who can't stop," said Garrity, on hearing that he was to be included on a list of influential queers in Portland. "I'm grateful, I'm honored, but I've been doing what I'm doing for quite a while now." Garrity celebrated his 2lst birthday at the first anniversary Stonewall march (the Stonewall club in New York City was the site of the 1969 riots that traditionally mark the birth of American queer recognition). Indeed, Garrity remembers dancing at Stonewall when he was 15. "It was illegal, but then everything was illegal," he said. "And I was cute back then, too."
A perennial fixture in Portland's municipal workings, Garrity recently fought what may have been the most difficult political battle of his career. In May, he was defeated in his bid to become the city councilor representing Parkside and the West End by another openly gay candidate, Karen Geraghty - in a race many observers labeled divisive and at times nasty. Does his defeat mark the end of his political work? "No," said Garrity. "I'm going to be there to help where I can. I'm concerned about the possibility of another [anti-gay rights] referendum. And I hope to continue working for broad mainstream support for equal rights.
"We need to begin focusing on queer leadership and our lack of unity. It's time for the politics of inclusion to begin to work in the gay scene again."
By anyone's measure, Karen Geraghty has a lot of reasons to feel particularly celebratory this year. During her years as president of the Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance, she worked to defeat Concerned Maine Families' 1995 anti-gay referendum. She also helped build support in Augusta for the passage of a statewide gay rights bill. Geraghty is perhaps Maine's most visible and vocal advocate for queer rights. And now, she is also a Portland city councilor, representing the West End and Parkside neighborhoods.
"I do believe there is a lot to celebrate," said Geraghty. "Especially around the passage of the [gay rights] bill. But I'd hesitate and caution any of us to get too self congratulatory. There's still so much work to do." While Geraghty admits she has no specific "shopping list" of objectives to bring to the city council, she believes that, as a lesbian, she can bring "a different way of looking at issues, not just in service to the gay community, but any oppressed minority. "
She's especially grateful to be recognized by the queer community. . "It's a positive feeling to be thought of as a leader," she said. "On the other hand, there are lots of people who never get recognized. These are the people you never hear about. They also happen to be the people, gay and otherwise, that I go to for advice and to help plan my strategies. If I can, I'd like to take my spotlight and shine it on them more often."
John Holverson is rarely at a loss for words. This is a rare occasion. "I'm shocked," Holverson blurted out when told of his inclusion on this list. "I mean really, I don't know what to say. I'm genuinely surprised."
But it comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with Holverson's work. As director of prevention education at The AIDS Project in Portland, Holverson has been training staff and volunteers in outreach and HIV prevention since June 1994. "I've lost a lot of people [to AIDS] and I care a lot about what I do," he said. "I do my work, I live my life, and I know that my life affects different levels in different ways. The social network we call 'community' is affected by this disease. So part of what I do has an effect in queer lives, and that's good, but that's not all I do."
And who makes Holverson's own list of influential queers in Portland? "The people who you never hear about," he said. "The people who work at Peabody House, or the volunteers in the Maine Speakout project. These are the people who are truly influential. There is a lot of connective tissue in the queer community that never gets recognized."
CLICK ON IMAGE FOR FULL-SIZE VIEW
"If I'm considered visible and influential," said Cathy Kidman, "it's because the issues that I represent are visible and on people's minds right now." Kidman advocates for queer youth, whose voices all too often go unheard. As executive director of Outright, a nonprofit organization composed of queer youth and adult advisors, Kidman has been working over the past five years to provide safe and affirming environments for young people dealing with issues of sexual identity. "It's a very good thing to hear that Outright makes this list," said Kidman. "Especially since the needs of queer youth are so great."
Outright provides a drop-in center and resource facility where queer youth can meet and chat with other queer youth. "We have expanded our services by providing peer advisors as well as adult advisors," said Kidman. "We now have a youth services coordinator to help develop volunteers and oversee youth action. And we have worked to get another Outright up and running in Lewiston."
Outright also sponsors a speakers bureau for public schools so that queer youth can speak at assemblies about their experiences. I asked Kidman to play a thought experiment: If she were a superintendent of schools, what would she do to make the educational environment safer for queer youth? "I'd make sure that every staff and administrator would be 100 percent supported if they took a stand to pro-actively provide support and safety for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning youth," she said.
CLICK ON IMAGE FOR FULL-SIZE VIEW
Visibility works, a fact that's at the heart of Jonathan Lee's vision as director of the Maine Speakout Project. Responding to what he described as "a sense of urgency to get queer voices heard," Lee launched Speakout in April of 1995 with three members. Its mission: to train other gay and lesbian people to speak publicly about their lives in hope of raising sensitivity and awareness. "I'm pleased that in two years we have come as far as we have," he said. Saying that he's pleased may be a bit of an understatement. From a modest beginning, Speakout has trained over 200 people in 12 counties to go out into their communities to - well, speak out.
Lee said Maine's new gay rights bill can only strengthen his work in building communication bridges between communities. "With the human rights act amended," said Lee, "there is now a stronger case to employers to take action against discrimination." Lee sees Speakout engaging in more "workplace dialogues" in the form of "lunch and learn" discussions. "Opening the doors of the workplace to discussion and recognizing discrimination is one of my biggest goals for the immediate future", he said.
In the coming months, Speakout will branch out into trainings and discussions in local colleges. "We've been invited by the directors of student life in both the Gorham and Portland campuses of USM to train resident assistants in conducting floor-by-floor discussions around the themes of discrimination against sexual minorities," Lee said. He has made it a top priority to get invited into public schools, in hopes that open discussion of issues may make for a safer school environment for queer youth. "If we're going to be successful we need to continue building collaborations," Lee said. "And it's really quite simple, actually. We take ourselves into our communities and make ourselves heard."
Ask anyone - queer or otherwise - who knows Esduardo Mariscal's work and you'll probably hear the same thing: "Portland is so lucky to have him here." As artistic director of Esduardo Mariscal Dance Theater, Mariscal - a native of Mexico - has transformed the modern dance scene in Portland. "I feel like Portland is very open to the themes that I enjoy exploring," said Mariscal. "In Mexico, I was forced to do more serious modern dance concerts. Since moving here two years ago, I can be more playful and theatrical with my work."
Playfulness and theatricality are characteristic of Mariscal's dance pieces, as is the frequent use of same-sex themes. And it's not uncommon to find a drag queen portrayed on-stage. "A recent performance I did featured two male dancers expressing a loving relationship with one another," Mariscal said. "I think the audience was touched, not shocked, by two men touching each others' bodies during the dance. I believe my work is welcomed."
The compliments he receives are a direct indication of how well he is regarded. "I don't go through a week without hearing someone say they enjoy my work," Mariscal said. "I don't think of myself as very visible in the gay community here. I don't go out very much. But it's wonderful to hear the compliments." Next on Mariscal's agenda is the performance of a complete piece that he's been developing for some time, "The Secret Waltz of the Flies," which will be at Oak Street Theater June 24 and 25
ROGER MAYO AND JIM NEAL
If you're a tourist in Portland, you can probably count on being steered in a number of predictable directions. You'll end up in the Old Port, at the Eastern Prom or on some ferry ride to an island. If you're a queer visitor to our city, you'll inevitably be directed to Drop Me A Line at 611 Congress St. "I think there's a lot of truth to that," said Roger Mayo, "and we haven't necessarily worked hard to make this happen. It's the type of people Jim and I are, as well as the type of customers we attract. Tourists come here and then tell us they can't wait to come back."
Together for 13 years, Mayo and Neal opened Drop Me A Line in July of 1990. "There isn't a week that goes by that we don't hear someone say how happy they are that we exist," said Neal. As well as selling cards and gifts, Neal and Mayo have provided a bulletin board of local resources, activities and contacts for queer visitors. They are also ticket agents for every queer happening in the Greater Portland area.
But Mayo is hesitant to suggest he runs a queer store. "We are a general card and gift store. If people get the impression that we cater to just the queer community, that's because other stores generally ignore the needs of the queer community. We carry queer books, cards and the like, but we see everyone in here." Indeed, as well as selling a diverse selection of kitsch, they also carry gifts like candle holders, statuary and original art. Indicative of anything?
"Yes," said Mayo. "That gay people like to decorate their homes just like anyone else. It's not like we all live with pink triangles on our walls."
It's no great surprise to Pat Peard that her name appears on this list. "I'm not stunned," said Peard. "But I don't assume anything. I'm very flattered. It means a lot to me because you need to work very hard to have people feel that way about you. That the energy and work I put in is recognized is very gratifying."
Peard knows a thing or two about hard work. She is the chair of the executive board - and most visible force - behind Maine Won't Discriminate, the broad-based coalition that defeated Carolyn Cosby's anti-gay initiative in the November 1995 election. While coalition members went about their own business following the vote, Peard kept the group in a waiting mode, ready to reorganize should the need arise.
That need may be upon us again. Days before Gov. Angus King affixed his signature to the gay rights bill, Michael Heath, director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, announced plans to initiate a people's veto. Heath hopes to send the bill to referendum in the fall. Peard isn't ready to wait and see. "We are beginning to get Maine Won't Discriminate cranked up again," she said, "but in a more scaled-down form. We are reaching out across the state again to reorganize the powerful coalition we had two years ago. We are prepared to - and it's so wonderful to be able to say this - defend our right. granted to us under the law."
When asked why he spends such a large portion of his year in the planning and preparation of Portland Pride celebrations, Michael Rossetti, coordinator of Southern Maine Pride, has a simple answer: "I do it because a should be done."
Rossetti still remembers the first Portland Pride march. "The first year, about 35 people gathered in Deering Oaks park," Rossetti said. "We had hundreds of purple balloons and I was getting the first waves of dread that no one else would show. Five minutes before the march was to begin, 200 people showed up."
Eleven years later, Rossetti and a Pride committee are coordinating a multi-day, citywide celebration that draws thousands of queers and queer- friendly folk from throughout New England. "I'm incredibly pleased with the work we've done," said Rossetti. "We see more and more new faces coming out to help, and a lot more younger faces in the committee. In fact, our volunteer coordinator is 19." Rossetti also believes the attitude of the city toward Pride celebrations is changing in a positive way. "There has been a shift in how the city regards Pride," he said. "We've moved from being a demonstration to being a festival - one of the biggest in New England."
Does he ever allow himself a moment to reflect on the tremendous achievement in pulling Pride together each year? "During the first pier dance, it really struck me what we were doing," he said. "I walked to the end of the pier and I looked out at all of these people meeting and laughing and having a good time. It was a tremendous feeling to know that you helped bring so many people together."
Anyone familiar with Paula Stockholm knows that the fastest way to reach her isn't by phone, it's via e-mail. She is the creator and driving force behind Maine GayNet, an Internet news group where ideas can be debated, information exchanged and friendships made among queers within Maine and around the world. "I'm flattered to hear I'm considered influential," said Stockholm. "I just keep Maine GayNet running. It's gratifying to know that what I've started has become successful and an important resource." Stockholm served on the board of the Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance for two years, is a board member of Portland's Matlovich Society, and the founder of TransSupport, a transsexual and cross-dressing support group. She counts over 300 subscribers to Maine GayNet's e-mail list. She stopped counting hits to her home page a long time ago. "Maine GayNet keeps people connected," she explained. "Distance is not a factor on the net." In fact , Stockholm had an ongoing correspondence with a Japanese net user who eventually moved to Maine. When asked if she has plans to change Maine GayNet in the near future, Stockholm said, "Maine GayNet works, and I'm reluctant to change something that works."
Rick MacPherson is a regular contributor to CBW.
The Casco Bay Weekly Home Page
The Maine GayNet Archive