I recently took the bait and dove head first into a Facebook debate. The LGBTQ Pride Portland Steering Committee posted their theme of this year’s celebration, but with one contentious rule: No corporate sponsors will be allowed to celebrate and show their public support for LGBTQ equality within the events.


My blood pressure shot through the roof. I read with dismay statements like “we will not kowtow to corporations” that seem written in righteous furor. At its core, the steering committee seems to be missing a fundamental fact of our LGBTQ movement. Exclusion is never the answer. In one word, every Pride celebration on Earth seeks one thing and one thing only: inclusion.

How did my younger LGBTQ compatriots miss this important, fundamental lesson in our struggle for equality? At 49, I suddenly realized a crushing guilt. We’ve failed to pass down the hard lessons learned in our struggle for equality.

Oh, sure, I could hurl words at them like “naïve” and “uninformed” or cite my five years on the board of Equality Maine or the year (1998) that I took off from my career to travel the country for the Human Rights Campaign to set up a major gifts fundraising arm, working beside the great Elizabeth Birch and spending nearly every weekend at a dinner or Pride event with Chaz Bono, Mitchell Anderson or Ellen and Betty DeGeneres. I could try to describe the fear and anger we had as a community as we gathered in 1993 on the National Mall for the March on Washington for LGBTQ equality. Then again in 1997, 2000, 2009 and just last summer in 2017.

I remember the first time that I opened The Advocate magazine in 1994 to see the absolute courage of a national sponsor, Subaru, to run a full-page advertisement. Wow, it made me as a young person feel that the world could change. People in power do care and could lend a hand. Then American Airlines and Apple followed along with dozens of others.

Before 1993, there were nearly no out spokespersons nationally besides the great Martina Navratilova. There was no “Will & Grace.” Melissa Etheridge would come out later that year at the National Press Club, just 40 feet from me, standing by k.d. lang. Neither Greg Louganis nor Ellen had yet come out.

In fact, Subaru was one of the only corporate sponsors for Martina, arguably one of the greatest athletes of all time – in any sport. But things started to change. National and regional sponsors began to support not only the Human Rights Campaign but also the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (now known as GLAAD); the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (now the National LGBTQ Task Force), the Gay and Lesbian Independent School Teacher Network (now the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), ACT UP!, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the Whitman-Walker clinic, Howard Brown Health Center, Emily’s List, the Gill Foundation, the Victory Fund and hundreds of statewide organizations, including the Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance – now our own Equality Maine. Companies and business leaders began taking a stand for equality in terms of both their employment policies and the much-needed sponsorship dollars to our cause for equality.

But this doesn’t seem to matter in a Facebook debate. I feel a bit like the old guy on the porch now yelling at the young people to stay off the lawn. So what do I say?

Yes, carry the torch forward! Yes, be radical! Yes, create a stir and controversy. Yes, speak out and raise your voices. But be inclusive. I hope our younger LGBTQ community members never experience the hatred, violence, death and plagues that took so many years of fighting to gain our modest footholds for equality. We did not make these strides by exclusion, but rather inclusion of our straight allies, equality-minded corporate leaders and every single person who wanted a seat at the table.

I have no right to offer my opinion or advice, but here goes. Pride Portland Steering Committee, you need every dollar, every hand, every volunteer and every supportive person regardless of politics, sexual orientation, gender-identity expression or whether a Mainer or from away.

To the beautiful, talented and passionate steering committee of Pride Portland: Yes, you have an inherent voice, but your voices need a stage, a mic, an audience, portable toilets, safety tents, water vendors and food trucks, and that takes sponsors.

If you don’t listen to me, then listen to Gus Kenworthy, RuPaul or Ellen. They’d be the first to tell you that having a platform has meant selling a whole lot of Tide and Toyotas.

Let’s get together. Inclusion is the key.

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