While many nonprofits have scaled back, postponed or gone virtual with annual their fundraisers during the pandemic, EqualityMaine went bigger, moving its annual gala outdoors to Thompson’s Point and adding a pre-party festival dubbed the “Day-la.”

Instead of sitting down to a three-course dinner, 450 guests at the Aug. 28 event mingled on the lawn, tasting menu items from 11 food trucks and desserts from area cafes, bakeries and chocolatiers.

“It’s nice to sample from restaurants instead of a planned thing,” said Antonio del Rosario, a host committee member from Portland. “And there’s a lot more space. This is making the best of the circumstances.”

As the sun set, partygoers moved to tables under the pavilion to bid on auction items, cheer for award recipients and hear from keynote speaker Dr. Nirav Shah of Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“A national poll found that among the communities that comprise the broader LGBTQ community over 92 percent of people nationwide have been vaccinated,” Shah said. “That’s why an event like tonight is possible in a manner that is safe.”

That same survey, Shah said, indicated that 60 percent of the LGBTQ community reported significant feelings of isolation during the pandemic.

“Our community is nothing if not resilient, and we are grateful to gather with all of you tonight,” said EqualityMaine Executive Director Matt Moonen, recounting ways that life – and state legislation – have changed since the last gala in April 2019. “We are committed to making sure that LGBTQ Mainers are still able to connect.”

EqualityMaine’s 2021 award recipients represent the diversity of the nonprofit’s isolation-busting programs, from the older adults of SAGE Maine who learned to socialize virtually to the teens at the weeklong New Leaders Project who learned to socialize in person.

“Being with a community where almost everyone is like me – not society’s version of normal – was eye-opening and affirming,” said Ollie Chase, the 17-year-old volunteer from Rumford who received the Alan Lindquist Young Leader Award.

Guest speaker Ryan Fecteau was just a year older than Chase when he was hired by EqualityMaine as a community organizer. Four years later, Fecteau was elected to the Maine State Legislature representing Biddeford at the age of 22. And now, at 28, he is the youngest speaker of the House in the nation and the first openly gay speaker in Maine history.

“With EqualityMaine, I met the family I never knew I had,” Fecteau said. “If not for them, I’m not sure when when or if I would have come out to my own family. The volunteers I worked with showed me that there is so much more love out there than there is hate.”

As the award presentations continued, three current EqualityMaine volunteers received Out Front Leadership Awards: Theo Greene, a Bowdoin College sociology professor writing about gay neighborhoods; Marta Haydym-Silver, a financial advisor who helped start the Queer Networking Group; and MaryAlice Mowry, a retired health policy consultant who volunteers with SAGE Maine.

President’s Award recipient Nancy Kelly, a founding member of SAGE Maine, has been serving on community and social service boards for the past 40 years. With her spouse Kate DeHaven, Kelly spends her winters in North Carolina at a 55+ LGBTQ co-housing project, exploring self-governing models of living that give a voice to LGBTQ elders.

“We refuse to be invisible,” Kelly said.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: