Daily news stories, more often than not, serve as signs of the times.

Two from last week – one that took off, the other, not so much – showed just how far Maine has progressed when it comes to sexual orientation.

Let’s start with the snoozer.

On Thursday, Bangor Daily News reporter Chris Cousins called Michael Heath, onetime leader of all things anti-LGBTQ in Maine, to ask about Heath’s latest crusade to strike the words “sexual orientation” from the Maine Human Rights Act.

The call was timely. Heath, who began circulating his petitions 18 months ago along with a ragtag group called Maine Resistance, had until Saturday to turn in the required 61,123 signatures to force a statewide vote on his citizen initiative.

“No, I am not going to file it,” Heath replied when asked if he was ready to roll. According to the newspaper, he then declined to answer any more questions.

He didn’t need to.

Anyone who watched Heath in his heyday, with that self-righteous smirk and those over-the-top condemnations cherry-picked from the Old Testament, knows that if he had the signatures for yet another ballot battle, the whole world would know it by now.

Instead, we get an eight-word quote and … kaput. Maine Resistance may have earned a spot on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s registry of hate groups last February, but when it comes to mobilizing the conservative Christian masses in this neck of the woods, Mainers clearly have moved on.

Even in these times of constant trouble, that counts as a good thing.

So does what happened last week at Gray-New Gloucester High School, where newly sacked football coach Duane Greaton’s tongue is tied even more tightly than Heath’s.

It’s hard to fathom what prompted Greaton to tell his players, as they prepared to play Yarmouth High School on Oct. 13, to taunt an opposing player with “Who’s your daddy?” whenever they tackled him because the kid’s parents are both women.

Maybe it’s because both teams were 0-6 heading into the game and Greaton, terrified of being labeled a complete loser, resolved to do anything he could to post a victory. (Karma kicked in and Yarmouth won, 13-6.)

Maybe Greaton, hired earlier this year despite protests that he was neither fit nor qualified to lead budding young men onto the gridiron, actually believed that when it comes to motivating your troops, a little homophobia can go a long way.

Or maybe Greaton, like Heath, hadn’t noticed how far the social pendulum has swung on LGBTQ rights until it smacked him in his thick head.

Whatever his rationale – he’s not talking – it backfired.

His players, rather than taunt the opposing player as instructed, instead blew the whistle on their coach. By Monday, Greaton was out of a job.

Again, that’s a good thing. As Bob Dylan wrote more than half a century ago, “Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command. Your old road is rapidly agin’. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand, for the times, they are a changin’.”

What makes the Greaton story so noteworthy isn’t that a football coach had his head so far up his derriere that he couldn’t see how far he’d strayed from the Maine Principals’ Association’s advice to all coaches in all sports:

“It is your responsibility, as their coach, to ensure that your athletes leave their high school days having learned the values of integrity, citizenship and respect for others that will sustain them for the rest of their lives.”

Rather, the story of the Gray-New Gloucester Patriots stands out because of its inherent – and uplifting – role reversal.

It’s the story of how an adult, a person in a position of authority, tried to take his young charges down a dark path. And how the kids, much to their collective credit, dug in their heels and said no way, coach, we’re not going there.

In fact, by the opening kickoff against Yarmouth, Greaton’s gambit had failed so spectacularly that in addition to his players, school officials, the referees and parents on both sides (including the mothers of the Yarmouth player) all knew about it and were on the lookout for anything even resembling a taunt.

Not to worry. The kids already had this.

Just as countless Mainers, when asked by Heath and his holy warriors if they’d sign yet another petition pushing anyone who isn’t heterosexual back into society’s shadows, undoubtedly shook their heads and said, “No thanks. I’m good.”

“The current law has been working for more than a decade, and (Heath’s) initiative was a blatant effort to turn back the clock and single out lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people so that it would once again be legal to fire them, deny them housing, or kick them out of a restaurant simply because of who they are,” said state Rep. Matt Moonen, D-Portland, executive director of Equality Maine, in an email Saturday.

“Those aren’t Maine values,” he said. “And Michael Heath represents a radical fringe element that is completely out of touch with the will of the people.”

Moonen nonetheless worries that, while the fight to enshrine sexual orientation in the Maine Human Rights Act was won long ago here, the battle to protect those rights on the wider national stage goes on.

“Serious threats are coming from the new administration in Washington, D.C.,” he noted, adding that Maine Rep. Bruce Poliquin, for one, has voted “in lockstep” with President Trump on anti-LGBTQ discrimination ranging from federal contract awards to service in the military.

Moonen’s right. For all Maine’s gains when it comes to treating one another with dignity and respect, there will always be those who see sexual orientation not as a God-given right, but as a tackling dummy.

Still, last week’s headlines remind us just how far Maine has come.

Duane Greaton’s short, shameful career as a football coach is history.

And Michael Heath’s petitions went out with the trash.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]