PORTLAND — The 2012 Sampson Catalyst for Change Award will be given to Rita Kissen, an author, singer, composer and retired University of Southern Maine professor who has been a leader in the fight for gay rights.

The award will be presented to Kissen on Oct. 18 at a dinner celebration at the Italian Heritage Center in Portland.

The award is given annually by the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine at the University of Southern Maine. It recognizes an individual who has been in the forefront for change regarding diversity, equality, and human and civil rights in the state.

Kissen, who lives on Peaks Island, founded the Portland chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and was a founding co-chairperson of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network of Southern Maine.

She was a professor of teacher education and women’ studies at USM from 1995 to 2005 and wrote groundbreaking books on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in the classroom, including “The Last Closet: The Real LIves of Lesbian and Gay Teachers.”

Past award recipients include Rabbi Harry Sky (2007), Dale McCormick (2008), Sallie Chandler (2009), Allen Sockabasin (2010) and Howard Solomon (2011).

A 5:30 p.m. cocktail party will precede the dinner at 40 Westland Ave. Dinner tickets are $50 each and may be purchased by calling Susie Bock at 780-4269.