Credit: George Danby

June is Pride month. All across the state people are joining together to celebrate wins, reflect on losses, and steel their resolve to keep working for an even brighter future for the LGBTQ+ community. The city of Portland has a history of welcoming a diverse range of people, and LGBTQ+ folks are no exception.

This summer, the city has an opportunity to show it is serious about supporting the health and welfare of the LGBTQ+ community by passing an earned paid sick leave ordinance that would benefit all families.

Earlier this month, the annual Portland Pride Parade Festival saw its largest turnout ever since it began more than 40 years ago. Among those in the crowd were the mayor and City Councilors Belinda Ray, Jill Duson, Pious Ali and Nick Mavodones. Two of these councilors, Ray and Ali, are members of Portland’s Health & Human Services Committee, which is reviewing the universal earned paid sick days ordinance.

The ordinance, drafted by the Southern Maine Workers’ Center and the Maine Women’s Lobby, would ensure all workers in the city could earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, with a 48-hour cap for a 12 month period. The time accrued could be used by workers to care for themselves or family when illness or injury strikes as well as for preventative health care.

According to the Maine Center on Economic Policy, an estimated 19,000 employees in Portland are unable to earn just one hour of paid sick time to care for themselves or loved ones or access preventative care. This is a matter of public health and worker dignity.

To date, 10 states and several more municipalities across the country have already passed comprehensive earned paid sick leave ordinances. It’s our hope that a successful implementation in Portland will pave the way for a statewide policy that could strengthen the economy and benefit all working people and families in Maine.

The Health & Human Services Committee is beginning to hash out the details of the ordinance, one of which is the critical question of how it will define the word “family.” The word is currently defined in the ordinance as anyone “related by blood or affinity to the employee, whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.”

Far from being untested, it is the definition that the federal government has used in its paid sick leave policy for almost 25 years. Nevertheless, members of Portland’s Health & Human Services Committee have yet to commit to keeping that language.

Why is this broad definition so important, and whom does it most impact? Well, for starters, lots of folks in the LGBTQ+ population.

Portland resident Mark James recently shared his experience relying on chosen family to care for him during cancer treatments:

“In February, I needed to go to Boston to see a cancer specialist. I don’t have any family locally, but I do have people who care for me like they are family while I’ve been sick. I was so grateful that my friend’s workplace had recently started providing paid sick days, because that meant she could take the day off to take me to my appointment. Without those paid sick days, I would have had to take the bus to Boston and go to this appointment alone and without support.”

Mark’s story isn’t unique. At Portland’s Pride Parade Festival, we collected more than 750 signatures in under four hours from those who support the ordinance’s inclusive definition of family.

Creating chosen family has always been a vital part of the health, protection and survival of LGBTQ+ folks, many of whom have been outcasted by their origin families. Despite wider gains of societal acceptance, LGBTQ+ people still face significantly higher rates of housing insecurity, incarceration, unemployment and suicide. Youth under age 24 are most vulnerable, facing disproportionate rates of homelessness and suicide because of being kicked out of their households by unaccepting parents or guardians.

Chosen family is not just important for LGBTQ+ folks, but also for folks in the broader immigrant community who are often living away from their origin families. Veterans also often rely on caregivers who aren’t traditional family members.

We want to thank Councilors Ali, Duson, Mavodones and Ray for up showing up as allies to our community during Portland Pride. We urge them to show up for our community again in an even more tangible way by preserving this critical language for LGBTQ+ families in Portland.

Gia Drew is the program director for EqualityMaine. Osgood is the executive director of Portland Outright.

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