Arthur Padilla, the new executive director of ACLU Maine, in their offices on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Arthur Padilla, the new executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, says young people deserve to be more involved in decisions that affect their lives.

“How do we design a way to get young people out of the middle of adult conversations that will impact the rest of their lives?” Padilla said in a recent interview. “I think that means giving them a voice in some way that they didn’t have before.”

Padilla said that while applying for the ACLU post he was attracted to several youth-related issues, some of which the organization has tackled in the past year. These include calls to close Long Creek Youth Development Center, the state’s only prison for juveniles, which is the subject of two lawsuits by former residents; and a recent ACLU report on Maine schools failing to teach students about the state’s Wabanaki tribe 20 years after the curriculum was first mandated by state law. There have also been recent debates across Maine school districts challenging whether certain books dedicated to sexuality and gender identity should be on school library shelves.

Padilla knows a lot about the vulnerability of youth.

He grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, during the 1980s and said he was homeless for about a decade starting when he was 15, after facing tension at home over his gender expression.

“My parents would not, could not, see my difference,” said Padilla, who uses he and they pronouns. “Whether it was my femininity at the time, my masculinity – they couldn’t resolve it. My parents did not like me.”


He depended on his school for meals and showers, and friends and teachers for rides – many of whom, Padilla said, didn’t realize that he didn’t have anywhere to live. He was in active addiction throughout that decade of homelessness before he followed a friend to Newburyport, Massachusetts, to enter recovery and earn his two-year degree at a community college in Haverhill. He later earned his bachelor’s degree and a master’s in counseling psychology from Prescott College in Arizona.

“It wasn’t until I met someone who said ‘you don’t need to be doing that,’ someone who believed in me,” Padilla said. “They pulled me out of all that and brought me to Massachusetts to get my associates and get sober.”

After more than half a year of searching, Maine’s largest civil rights organization announced in early November it had hired Padilla, a consultant for nonprofits with experience in public service and youth-led advocacy initiatives. He was selected from “scores” of candidates who applied from all over the country, said ACLU of Maine’s board President Jodi Nofsinger.

Arthur Padilla, the new executive director of ACLU Maine, in their offices. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Padilla comes to Maine most recently from Seattle, where he was working as a nonprofit consultant. He oversaw a program to educate and reduce the harm of methamphetamine addiction for LGBTQ Seattle residents. He was also director of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League in Washington, D.C., and has served as an interim executive director for several nonprofits, including the ROOTS Youth Shelter in Seattle, that are “not dissimilar” to the ACLU of Maine, Nofsinger said Tuesday.

At these organizations, Padilla had a “track record of leaving things significantly better than when he was starting out,” she said.

“Interim [executive directors] don’t tend to try to turn things around. They try to maintain the status quo,” Nofsinger said. “He worked with the people, to understand them, and to effectuate changes.


He also spent seven years evaluating educational programs run by the Alaska Humanities Forum and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which oversees public health programs and hospitals for Alaska’s Indigenous population. Padilla said he would spend at least a week in Alaska every month, traveling across the state to interview students and teachers in Alaska schools about their needs and goals.

When the Alaska Humanities Forum received federal funding to run its sister school exchange program – sending students between rural villages and urban schools – Padilla evaluated its implementation. Kari Lovett, who oversaw the exchange program at the time, said Padilla was less focused on meeting marks and more on opportunities for improvement.

“It’s always nice to have evaluators with a 30,000-foot view,” said Lovett, adding that Padilla tracked the program and its progress for several years, honing an understanding of various cultures across Alaska that helped the Humanities Forum create classrooms where kids “can be proud of their background and their heritage.”

That grant ran out in August, Lovett said, but the input Padilla offered will continue to aid the Humanities Forum as it supports Alaska Native organizations doing similar work in schools.

Padilla first entered the world of public service in the early 1990s, working in Arizona with mostly queer individuals infected by HIV/AIDS. This was before there were any treatment options available for HIV and the conversation about the virus was stigmatized. Padilla said he felt his role at the time was mostly keeping people comfortable and “walking them through death.”

But it introduced him to creative ways to advocate for a difference. While working with a county health department in Arizona around the same time, Padilla was responsible for leading an HIV/AIDS unit for high school students.


“In Arizona, you could do HIV education but you couldn’t talk about ‘gay,’ it was called the ‘no say gay bill,’ ” Padilla said.

At the same time, educators were required to answer any question a student asked. Padilla said he got students involved by encouraging them to ask questions in that area. Years later, Padilla led another initiative with LGBTQ teens in Washington, D.C., helping them to advocate for their own issues.

The ACLU of Maine has been operating without an executive director since Alison Beyea, the group’s director of eight years, left in early April to take some time off, said ACLU spokesperson David Farmer. Beyea has been consulting for Maine nonprofits and businesses since then, he said.

A statement in late March announcing Beyea’s departure said she had doubled the ACLU’s staffing and led “one of the most diverse teams in Maine through some of the most pressing civil rights and civil liberties challenges the state and nation have faced.”

Beyea supported efforts to close the state’s only youth prison, ban Indigenous mascots in Maine schools, bail reform and campaigns to inform Mainers of the disproportionate impact COVID-19 had on marginalized residents.

Padilla said he’s still figuring out his role with the ACLU, overseeing attorneys and advocates who advocate for civil liberty issues in both the State House and the courthouse. He said he looks forward to involving young Mainers in that process.

“I don’t know what your life was like, but mine was the impact of adults’ decisions. All of it,” Padilla said. “No one asked me what I needed.”

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