Participants march in the 2019 Pride Portland! parade. Credit: Irwin Gratz | Maine Public

Fifty years after the Stonewall Riots that sparked a national movement, Mainers celebrated LGBTQ Pride in Portland with a parade, starting at Monument Square and ending at a festival in Deering Oaks Park.

James Melanson, who serves on the steering committee of Pride Portland!, says he was in the city’s first pride march 32 years ago, along with about 50 other participants.

“People were afraid,” Melanson remembers. “One person who participated asked if he could cover his face because he was scared, so it’s changed considerably, as you can see. People are very out and proud now, and now we have many people who want to be part of the parade and it’s a much more glorious experience.”

The first Portland Pride celebration was held in 1987. Its current incarnation is a series of events, including speed dating, movie showings, dance parties and lectures, which take place over a couple of weeks in June. Saturday’s events were part of a series that kicked off June 6, among many events around Maine and the nation.

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It was in June of 1969 that an early morning police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village sparked riots by the LGBTQ community. The riots are widely considered a catalyst in the modern fight for LGBTQ rights.

Ren Morrill, a steering committee member with Pride Portland!, says that June 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the LGBTQ community declaring independence from “the closets we’d been forced to hide in for the previous few centuries.” The Portland Public Library currently has an exhibit showcasing these events and their significance to the LGBTQ community.

Credit: Irwin Gratz | Maine Public

Among the groups that took part in Saturday’s parade is the activist group Portland Outright which describes itself as “a queer and trans youth movement fighting oppression with tenderness.” One of the signs that the group displayed in the parade read “50 Years Later We’re Still Policed — Who’s Rejoicing?”

Josh Clukey is on the board of Portland Outright.

“Things have gotten a lot better for white, cis gays and lesbians, but the very people and identities that started Stonewall and started this movement are still deeply margianlized in our society,” he said. “We’ve made a lot of progress, but the statistics remain about the same for trans women of color.”

The Maine legislature recently outlawed conversion therapy for minors, which is aimed at attempting to change a person’s sexual or gender identity. But nationwide, LGBTQ individuals have seen rollbacks or threats to certain freedoms.

Melanson said that although times have changed, Pride events are still important.

“It’s still a very queer-phobic society, and, of course, now we’re seeing things go back, in terms of the community, and we’re seeing an attack on the trans community,” Melanson said. “What pride allows people to do is, it lets our community come together to show each other love and affirmation and support, and that may be important now more than ever.”

Portland police estimate that more than 6,000 people attended the parade, and one officer said it was one of the largest turnouts he had seen.

As one master of ceremonies said to the crowd: “We may be a little city, but we have got a lot of pride.”

Watch: Bangor Pride parade and festival draws largest crowd ever

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.