Boothbay selectmen table proposed ‘Gay Pride’ June proclamation

Fri, 02/16/2024 - 10:00am

    Selectmen want more time to decide whether to grant a proclamation recognizing June as “Pride Month” in Boothbay.

    On Feb. 14, Byron Cortez of East Boothbay requested selectmen approve a proclamation recognizing human rights advances made by the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community in the past 50 years. Cortez has lived in the U.S. since 1990 after seeking asylum from his native Guatemala. He is married to his husband Elliot Schwartz. The couple first visited the peninsula in June 2021 and decided to make Boothbay their home in March 2022.

    “We discovered Maine, and later decided to make Farnham Point our home,” Cortez said. “It’s a really wonderful community. It’s a very welcoming place and we think this would send a great message that everyone is welcome.”

    On Feb. 7, Cortez made the same request to Southport seletmen to proclaim June as Pride Month, fly the Pride Flag over the town hall for the entire month, and paint crosswalks in the rainbow pattern as displayed on the Pride Flag. But Boothbay selectmen had concerns about municipal property being the proper forum for a public message. The board also declined to make an official decision while two selectmen were absent. Selectmen Dale Harmon, Chairman Chuck Cunningham and Russell Pinkham were in attendance. Selectmen Steve Lewis and Julie Roberts were absent. 

    “This is something that really needs the full board’s input,” Harmon said. “I can tell you this is a ‘touchy’ subject, and with not one iota of disrespect, I believe a proclamation of any kind would make some want to make an opposite proclamation,” he said. “I don’t want to sound bigoted or biased, but this may hamstring the board down the road.” Harmon added he supported equal rights for all Americans.

    Cunningham agreed with Harmon’s recommendation to table the proposal. Cunningham told Cortez he had friends who were gay, lesbian and transgender. “You touched on this community as already being welcoming and inclusive without a proclamation,” he said. “I don't want to be negative, but if we do this for one group, we may have to do it for everyone.”

    Harmon encouraged the community to weigh in on the request by calling, emailing, or talking to selectmen. Resident Desiree Scorcia told selectmen Pride symbols on her car were a sign of comfort to her children’s friends. “So many times I see their face visibly relax as they enter my vehicle. I had no idea how much it matters to kids seeing that kind of support and knowing a car is a safe place,” she said.

    Cortez had earlier described the Boothbay peninsula as a “progressive” region. Resident Pam Mancuso believed the proclamation would divide the community. “I’m glad you feel welcome here, but I oppose this,” she said. “I think we should stay neutral, and I’m pretty sure conservative Christians don’t agree with you.”

    Following his request, Cortez told the Boothbay Register the happiest day of his life  was becoming a U.S. citizen in 2008, and he respects what the American flag stands for. “The U.S. gave me an opportunity to be different and be myself. I’m grateful for that,” he said. 

    Cortez also explained the Pride Flag represents the struggle for the LGBT community to gain full civil rights. In 2012, Maine voters legalized same-sex marriages, and the U.S. Supreme Court followed in 2015. But for Cortez and the LGBT community, their fight for full acceptance began long ago. Their pursuit of inclusion and acceptance began in 1969 following The Stonewall Riots in New York City. 

    According to Cortez and, in the early hours on June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich village. The raid sparked a riot among bar patrons and neighborhood residents. Police hauled employees and patrons out of the bar, leading to six days of protests and violent clashes with law enforcement outside the bar on Christopher Street, in neighboring streets and in nearby Christopher Park. The Stonewall Riots served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world.

    “You see, we’ve been harassed and beaten by the police and others for decades. When we complained, police ignored. So the Pride Flag reflects the long, long struggle and it’s something to be proud of,” Cortez said. 

    Cortez will make the same request to the Boothbay Harbor and Edgecomb selectboards.