PORTLAND – Some 40 groups that marched in the Southern Maine Pride Parade shared a message of equality and acceptance Saturday.

Those carrying a banner for the southern Maine chapter of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network chanted, “Two, four, six, eight. Don’t assume your kids are straight.”

Others behind them shouted, “Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Homophobia’s got to go.”

The thousands that lined Congress and High streets along the parade route cheered the marchers on, marking the 25th annual Southern Maine Pride Parade and Festival.

“Portland has such a long history of caring for everyone and opposing discrimination,” Mayor Nicholas Mavodones said before the parade kicked off.

Mavodones joined Portland Police Chief James Craig as grand marshals for this year’s festivities, carrying the theme of “Alive With Pride at 25.” Both Mavodones and Craig said they were honored to lead the parade.

“It’s a great event,” Craig said.

In the past year, the Portland Police Department has hosted three community forums with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to build rapport. Craig said in his two years as police chief he has seen communication between that community and the department grow.

“Portland is a great place when you talk tolerance,” of various groups, Craig said.

The community support was shown as observers of the parade hopped in at the end to help carry a rainbow-colored flag that covered the width of the street and stretched the length of two blocks. Others trailed the parade, heading to Deering Oaks park for the afternoon festival.

As drag performer Miss JoAnn kicked off performances, Thy Hem of Portland took in the scene of the festival. Hem, a member of the gay community, had just purchased the rainbow-colored top hat he wore from one of the many vendors in the park.

“It’s awesome,” he said of the parade and festival. “Everybody’s all for one. All for gay.”

Angel Putney was also enjoying the festival and meeting up with friends. Putney, a volunteer with Family Crisis Services, marched with the organization in the parade wearing a rainbow-colored skirt.

“I love gay pride and love being out and proud,” she said.

Putney was amazed by the crowd, estimated to be about 5,000, a far cry from the 200 who gathered for the first pride festivities in 1986. Whether they are members of the gay community or supportive family and friends, Putney said, it’s important for people to show their support.

“It’s part of building community. Building a diverse and accepting community,” she said.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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