Christopher O’Connor, a South Portland resident and development director of EqualityMaine, with a pride flag in the organization’s Portland offices. Nearly 400 people have requested a free flag since the organization began offering them two weeks ago. Courtesy / Christopher O’Connor

SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council voted 6-1 on Jan. 26 to fly the pride flag outside municipal buildings for one month. The action comes after threatening, homophobic, anonymous letters were sent to Portland and South Portland residents, including those who were displaying the rainbow-colored pride flag or the Black Lives Matter flag.

Christopher O’Connor, development director for nonprofit organization EqualityMaine, said the organization was “thrilled” with the council’s move.

“It sends a really clear message that hate has no place in our community,” O’Connor said.

Councilor Susan Henderson, who voted in opposition, said she strongly supports the LGBTQIA+ community, and her vote was a statement that the city should instead be lending its support through permanent policy changes.

“I don’t want to speak with flags,” she said.

City officials said they were waiting to receive the flags from the South Portland Human Rights Commission.

Commission Chairperson Pedro Vazquez said he thinks the commission will need about 15-20 flags, which it is getting from EqualityMaine.

Seven Portland residents and one South Portland resident reported receiving anonymous letters containing death threats against gay people. The eight letters also contained a pride flag with the logo of the Satanic Temple superimposed on it.

According to Portland police, the letters were sent to people who flew rainbow pride flags or displayed Black Lives Matter signs outside their homes.  This week, Portland Police Lt. Robert Martin said no arrests have been made, but the investigation remains open.

O’Connor said the hateful messages, first reported to police on Jan. 5, prompted EqualityMaine to buy 100 3-by-5-foot LGBTQIA+ flags, commonly referred to as pride flags, to give away to anyone interested.

O’Connor said the response was swift.

“The first hundred probably went in about four to five hours,” said O’Connor, who lives in South Portland. “That response to these acts of hate is what this community is all about.”

In all, the organization has received 386 requests for flags as of Jan. 29. There was an unexpected financial benefit, too. Along with the requests for flags, he said, the organization, which serves LGBTQIA+ people statewide, has received more than $5,000 in contributions.

The organization has purchased several hundred more flags in response to the requests, and O’Connor said flags are still available to anyone who wishes to register and pick one up.

Vazquez called the overall LGBTQIA+ support “just a tremendous, overwhelming feeling of unity, of our community coming together.”

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