Pride Portland Parade participants carry the leading edge of a 900-foot rainbow flag during last year’s Pride Portland event. This year’s event is being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ben McKenna / Portland Press Herald

PORTLAND — Social distancing guidelines in the wake of COVID-19 have canceled this year’s Pride Portland Parade and the festival at Deering Oaks. But that hasn’t stopped the LGBTQ+ community from finding a way to celebrate together.

Rather than marking Pride Month this month individually, local equality organizations, including Pride Portland, have formed Pride Across Maine, a series of events scheduled over the next few months.

Christopher O’Connor, development director for Equality Maine, one of the groups behind Pride Across Maine, said this is the first  coordinated effort between Pride organizations in the state.

“All the Prides were either canceling or postponing events,” O’Connor said. “We had also recently postponed our annual gala and were reviewing how to connect with folks. I had what I’d call a nightmare that without some sort of coordination there would be 17 drag shows online and no one would know what to do.”

The Pride Portland Parade, which in past years has attracted thousands to downtown Portland, is being replaced by a Virtual Pride Parade at noon Sunday, June 28. The parade is open to organizations, groups and families and will be emceed by organizer Blake Hayes of Coast 93.1’s The Blake Show with Kelly & Todd. It will be streamed at coast931.com.

The parade will feature short video clips with participants saying for example, what Pride means to them or showing how they’re celebrating with their own personal parades at home. The radio station is collecting the various clips and they will be edited into the final “parade” for streaming.

O’Connor and Hayes said the virtual parade is one way for the LBGTQ+ community to remain connected during this unprecedented time when social distancing means many people are staying home more.

“One of the things about Pride, especially the parade, is it is an opportunity to gather together as a community and feel safe,” Hayes said. “For some people, it may be the only time they gather with a large group of people just like them.”

A contingent from MaineHealth marches in last year’s Pride Portland! Parade on High Street. Ben McKenna / Portland Press Herald

Hayes, who has been involved with Pride Portland since moving to Maine in 2014, said he knew even if the parade couldn’t be held in person, it still had to go on in some form.

The first Pride event he attended as a student at Emerson College in Boston in 2004 “was so inspiring for me,” he said. “I realized there are kids that would have been at their first Pride parade this year. No matter what, this year is not going to be the same when it comes to the positivity and inclusivity that comes with the Pride parade.”

“There is nothing like having 15,000 people gathering across the streets of downtown Portland and knowing your community is with you and behind you,” O’Connor said.

 Bringing the LGBTQ+community together at the same time the Black Lives Matter movement is demanding equality and better treatment by law enforcement is particularly important, O’Connor said, and hearkens back to how the Pride movement started more than 50 years ago.

The first Pride parade in the United States was in 1970 to mark the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Led by a group of transgender women of color and drag queens, patrons at the Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1969 protested for six days over the way police treated them.

“They were just trying to live their lives and be themselves, but finally said enough is enough,” O’Connor said.

Hayes said he would like to include a video tribute in the virtual parade to Marsha P. Johnson, a noted figure in the Stonewall Uprising and a staunch advocate for gay rights.

Other virtual events scheduled by Pride Across Maine include Drag Bingo on Friday, June 26, a Drag Story Hour on Saturday, June 27, a Tea Dance on Sunday, June 28, and  MaineTransNet’s Maine Pride Picnic on July 26.

Events planned in August, such as a drive-in take over, Pride Passport and Pride Ride depend on restrictions in place at that time.

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