YORK COUNTY — The state of Maine, alongside its New England brethren, is regarded as one of the most progressive states with respect to equality and the LGTBQ community.

LD-1025, ‘Conversion Therapy’

As of Feb. 27, State Rep. Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford) and State Senator Linda Sanborn (D-Gorham) introduced legislative document No. 1025, a bill to prohibit the use of conversion therapy to minors by licensed professionals.

The bill arrives as an addendum to the efforts proposed by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ+) community in Maine over the decade.

Rep. Ryan Fecteau speaks to attendees at Spill the Equalit-Tea, and discusses the progress of LD-1025, an act to ban the legal practice of conversion therapy on youth in the state of Maine. Courtesy Photograph / EQUALITYMAINE

If enacted, the bill intends to discipline the administration of conversion therapy — practices that intend to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, such as pointed behavioral therapy — on the grounds of a new scientific understanding of the practice.

“The medical and social science consensus is that conversion therapy is a harmful and ineffective practice or treatment,” read the bill’s legislative intent. “A wide range of major health and mental health organizations in the United States recognize being [LGBT] and having same-sex sexual attractions as normal variants of human sexuality and gender identity, rather than an illness or a developmental disorder.”

Fecteau’s bill is set to be discussed in a public hearing this spring. The bill comes from the burgeoning community within Maine, with roots in equality for all citizens.

In 2012, EqualityMaine, a historical social rights group, advocated for same-sex marriage and succeeded in passing the bill — three years prior to the Supreme Court ruling in June that declared a legal precedent for such relationships.

Established in 1984 following the discriminatory death of Charlie Howard, EqualityMaine has spent 35 years bolstering the LGBTQ community. Through a variety of advocacy programs, featuring speakers such as Gia Drew, and a number of initiatives vying for further education surrounding sexual orientation, it has grown to symbolize the heart of Mainers’ journey towards equality.

Beginning as the Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance (MLGPA), the organization targeted political representation and equality.

“Our primary goals are to involve the lesbian and gay community in Maine’s political process, promote civil rights in Maine, develop and review legislation, endorse candidates, build coalitions and network with state and national human rights organizations.” This was a portion of the founding members’ mission statement.

Since its inception, EqualityMaine has enjoyed a series of victories for nearly each year it has been in operation. In 2005, supported a non-discrimination bill that eliminated prejudice towards the community in the workplace, with respect to education, and in terms of monetary credit.

Their greatest accomplishment was in collaboration with the Maine Freedom to Marry Coalition, when the organization launched a Citizens’ initiative ballot to secure same-sex marriage. Current senator, Justin Chenette, remembers the work he performed with EqualityMaine on the issue.

“When we passed marriage equality, it was monumental,” said Chenette, an intern with the organization at the time of the initiative.

In 2016, EqualityMaine championed the transgender community by eliminating exclusivity in Portland’s health care plans that barred transgender employees and their dependents from receiving benefits.

As of March 19, LD-1 — an act to protect healthcare coverage for Maine families — set a precedent in healthcare for transgender men and women in the state.

“[Now] that LD 1 is state law, Mainers will be able to rest assured that they can get health care that includes coverage for pre-existing conditions,” said EqualityMaine in a released statement. “As a result, transgender people and people living with HIV/AIDS won’t have to pay exorbitant premiums, or lose access to life saving treatment… the bill’s prohibition on exclusions for trans health care means that so many Mainers will be able to get the care that they need, when they need it.”

The act concerns private healthcare companies; larger state-regulated programs, such as MaineCare (formerly Maine Medicaid), are yet to be made feasible for transgender Mainers.

Spill the Equali-Tea and Youth Involvement

EqualityMaine has employed speakers like Gia Drew to speak with high school students, school administrators, and social workers around the state to bring new information on such topics to the forefront.

Drew was originally raised near Boston among a bustling family of nine: six siblings, two parents. As a youth, she says she knew something was up. After leaving her Catholic household and heading to college in 1985, Drew was exposed to an environment that encouraged her self-realization.

“[There was] no talk of LGBTQ issues,” said Drew, “and it was wonderful to explore that in college.”

The hard part was going back and forth from college and home on breaks, said Drew. Between her expanding identity and existing ties to home life, she was made to act as two people.

“When I look back, I wish I was braver — but I was still very afraid,” Drew said. “I can’t go back and change things.”

Drew moved across the United States before landing in Maine at the turn of the century, and connected with the Maine TransNet shortly after identifying as transgender. To her knowledge, she was only the second in the state’s history to have done so.

Following her identification, she faced strife within her work — having been a high school teacher and coach for nearly two decades in southern Maine — that propelled her into activism with groups like the TransNet, GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network), and EqualityMaine.

Like now-senator Justin Chenette, Drew worked as an advocate for marriage equality in the 2012 initiative. In addition, she served as the President of the Board of Directors at Maine TransNet before assuming the position of program director at EqualityMaine in early 2014.

As program director, Drew organizes rural outreach initiatives for the organization and speaks on a platform transgender healthcare reform in presentations statewide.

Since her appointment, she has implemented an annual self-empowerment and social justice camp known as the New Leaders Project. Drew has driven the organization’s semi-annual LGBTQ conference for several years.

Promotional poster for the Spill the Equali-Tea Youth Conference. Jay Hutchins is a student, and an active member of the LGBTQ+ community; they attended the event alongside peers. Courtesy Photograph / EQUALITYMAINE

The conference, occurring each spring at varying locations and each fall (typically at the University of Maine, Orono), gathers youth and adult members of the community in a single collaborative workshop environment.

When the conference began six years ago, it was intended for social workers and appropriate professionals in the field of education. However, it has since attracted passionate youths and adults alike.

“All-Gender Restroom” sign adorning a restroom on the first floor of the Harold Alfond Forum, where the Spill the Equalit-Tea LGBTQ+ Youth Conference was held on March 8. Journal Tribune / BENJAMIN D. LEVESQUE

Drew’s latest conference, Spill the Equali-Tea, was earlier this March in the Harold Alfond Forum at the University of New England (UNE), Biddeford.

In association with GLSEN Southern Maine, the Maine Health Equity Alliance, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, and the Maine Youth Action Network, among others, Drew and program assistant Maya Williams organized a series a workshops for attendees.

The event captured the minds of every generation. From young to aged, the conference hosted a collage of people from varying backgrounds in science, social reform, and advocacy groups, as well as those interested in connecting with the community itself.

Youth between the ages of 11 and 25, their family members, and presenters were able to attend for free. As opposed to educators and other professionals, who contributed $35.

Spill the Equali-Tea opened with brief introductions. To set the tone of the conference, Dr. Linda Morrison and Bri Lippit shared their experience as incoming members of the community.

Their relationship as teacher and student was strained when Bri “outed” as identifying they/them, that is, irrespective of masculine or feminine pronouns. Morrison, markedly the first openly-gay faculty member at UNE, held a joint discussion with Bri about the progress she had made in supporting Bri’s identity.

She has her moments, said Morrison, but she is quickly reminded by Bri when she slips up.

Rep. Fecteau followed and spoke on the status of LD-1025 before workshops commenced, and he was greeted with a wave of enthusiasm from the audience. He encouraged attendees to contact their representatives about the bill. The audience was invited to speak at the bill’s hearings in spring.

From left, Maya Williams (EqualityMaine program assistant), Franklin “Frank” Books (UNE professor) and Gia Drew (EqualityMaine program director). Courtesy Photograph / EQUALITYMAINE

Next, Kaylee Wolfe, an educator and representative from Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, spoke to the attendees in earnest.

“We are so thrilled and honored to be a part of this day,” said Wolfe. “As young people, you have tremendous power and potential.”

Attendees moved to their first panels and workshops, with topics ranging from “Using Neuroscience to Counter Bias” to “Queering Birth Control.” A mix of professionals and students — from middle and high schools alike — moved between periods and mingled with like-minded community members.

A number of Spill the Equali-Tea’s attendees hosted workshops of their own, such as Beck Lambert. They tackled “Queer Identity and Spoken Word” alongside Maya Williams.

“Spoken word was a way I could communicate with myself,” said Lambert. “I use my poetry to have people better understand me without going into a long exposé.”

In a history of spoken word, Williams highlighted the medium’s roots in black culture, harkening to the era of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s.

Members of the workshop crafted their own spoken word, and had the opportunity to share and critique their work with others. In sum, the conference was a veritable success for the community with respect to solidarity. Williams, one of the conference’s leading organizers, attributed the future of equality reform to the next generation.

“This event is facilitated by both adults and young people, because inter-generational collaboration is important.”

Prospects for Equality in Maine

Gia Drew sees a veritable future for the community and general equality in Maine.

“Maybe that day isn’t far off,” said Drew, envisioning a state of total equality, “from where I was when I was a little kid. To be in a place now where we have so many elected officials in the state of Maine… We have definitely made progress, but we have to make continual progress.”

Her experiences in the community have given her the opportunity to aid Maine’s aspiring youth, who will enter an environment that will accept, rather than reject, their blossoming identities.

Success, Drew said, is being able to be yourself without the fear of being harassed or discriminated against. You get to be you; that’s something you should be proud of.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: