PORTLAND, Maine — The organization that is working to legalize same-sex marriage this year will celebrate its 25th anniversary with an awards dinner March 21 at the Holiday Inn by the Bay.

Founded in 1984 as the Maine Lesbian-Gay Political Alliance, EqualityMaine is the state’s oldest and largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization, according to a press release announcing the event.

“In January 2009 we, in partnership with the Maine Freedom to Marry Coalition, announced a bill that would extend civil marriage rights to same-sex couples in Maine,” Executive Director Betsy Smith said. “It’s fitting that this historic effort began during our 25th anniversary year.

“We’ve come a long way since 1984,” she continued, “securing hate crime protections and nondiscrimination legislation, among other achievements. Winning marriage will be another tremendous step forward for Maine’s same-sex couples and their families.”

The anniversary dinner will honor statewide leaders for equality, a retrospective of the organization’s first 25 years and updates on the campaign for marriage, according to EquailityMaine.

This year’s honorees are:

• Dale McCormick, co-founder and first president of the Maine Lesbian-Gay Political Alliance, which became EqualityMaine in 2004, will receive the President’s Award.

• Betsy Sweet, owner of Moose Ridge Associates in Hallowell will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing her lifelong leadership in the fight for full equality.

• Steve Wessler, founder of Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence in Portland, will receive the Great Pioneer Award, recognizing achievement that embodies bold new vision or courageous breakthrough in our struggle for equality.

• Frannie Peabody Center in Portland will receive the Cameron Duncan Award, recognizing accomplishment, commitment and service to the community living with HIV-AIDS.

• Martha Palmer of Lisbon Falls will receive the F.E. Pentlarge Award, recognizing outstanding leadership for equality by straight allies.

• Maine Women’s Lobby of Augusta will receive the Partners for Equality Award, recognizing outstanding work and collaboration by a coalition partner organization.

• Stephen Carnahan of Portland, Marsha Clegg of Wells, Stephen C. Farrand of Freeport, Jenna Ginsberg of Rumford, Gillian Greenwoods of Bangor, Kathy Helming of Portland and Meredith Hunt of Bowdoin will receive the Out Front Award that recognizes outstanding volunteer leadership.

For more information on the dinner, visit http://equalitymaine.org/annual-dinner/25-years-progress.



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History of EqualityMaine

1984 — The Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance is founded after the death of Charlie Howard, a 23-year-old Bangor man who was attacked and killed because he was gay.

1985 — The first MLGPA annual meeting is held.

1987 — The MLGPA joins other marchers at Maine’s first Gay Pride Day in Portland and joins the Dirigo Alliance, a coalition dedicated to electing progressive legislators in Maine.

1990 — The MLGPA holds its first candidates’ forum, for candidates in Maine’s 1st Congressional District.

1992 — The first MLGPA scholarships are awarded.

1993 — LD 246, “An Act to Prevent Discrimination,” is introduced and passes both houses of the Legislature, but is vetoed by Gov. John McKernan.

1995 — The MLGPA celebrates its 10th annual dinner and awards ceremony at the Augusta Civic Center.

1997 — With 80 percent support from the Maine Senate and 55 percent support from the House, Gov. Angus King signs a nondiscrimination bill into law.

1998 — The nondiscrimination law is overturned in a close referendum battle and the MLGPA Foundation is created to carry out the MLGPA’s educational and charitable missions.

1999 — Legislation is passed that extends hospital visitation rights to same-sex partners.

2001 — After 17 years as an all-volunteer effort, the MLGPA becomes a staffed organization; a statewide domestic partner health benefits bill is passed and funding for civil rights teams to address bias-motivated violence and harassment in Maine schools is increased by a historic $500,000.

2002 — Betsy Smith, MLGPA president, is hired as full-time executive director.

2004 — The MLGPA becomes EqualityMaine and a domestic partner inheritance rights bill is passed.

2005 — EQME helps defeat a referendum to overturn the law nondiscrimination legislation to protect LGBT citizens, making Maine the sixth New England state to enact such legislation.

2007 — The state’s Family Medical Leave Act is expanded to include LGBT workers.

2008 — EQME identifies 33,100 voters who support marriage equality on Election Day.

2009 — EQME and its coalition partners Jan. 13 announce a bill that would provide civil marriage equality for same-sex couples in Maine.

Source: EqualityMaine.