People march in the Bangor Pride Parade on Saturday, June 23, 2018. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

MADAWASKA, Maine — For the first time in its history, Aroostook County will celebrate Pride Month with a parade on Friday, June 25, and a weekend of festivities.

The parade is bidirectional — one party leaving from the parking lot of the Houlton Marden’s and the other from the University of Maine at Fort Kent campus, and meeting each other at Spruce Haven in Caribou, where the groups will camp for the weekend.  

Maine’s major cities have celebrated Pride since at least the 1980s, and in The County, LGBTQ advocates have led education, solidarity and support efforts for years. But a Pride celebration to the scale of this year’s event is new territory for the LGBTQ community.

The organization hosting the parade, Pride Aroostook, is just three years old — an independent group of volunteers from the LGBTQ community and allies who came together after realizing Aroostook didn’t have Pride events like their southern neighbors.

In 2019, the group held a smaller event during Pride Month, and in 2020, were assuaged from an in-person celebration by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of meeting in-person, they recorded a video of community members and allies from across The County passing a pride flag to each other.

The festival this year is meant to be a homecoming and a celebration of acceptance for a community that hasn’t always felt welcome in rural Maine.

“We’ve lost a lot of people in Aroostook County due to not feeling accepted,” organizer Cory Tilley said. “We all have family and we all have friends who no longer live here because of that.”

The weekend will include outdoor activities, family-style meals, bonfires, karaoke and a drag performance. The weekend is geared toward families and will be substance-free — no alcohol or drugs of any kind. Pride Aroostook has also taken precautions to ensure the safety of parade and festival participants, Tilley said.

“It’s just going to be a fun time and Aroostook County needs that right now,” Tilly said. “Whether it’s about pride or just about healing, Aroostook County has been without these things for a long time.”

Pride Aroostook has already received messages from people across the state hoping to join in the fun — some of them former residents of The County, Tilly said. He said that he hopes that, among other things, the event can help people from outside of the LGBTQ community learn and practice acceptance so that in the future, nobody has to leave the place where they grew up because of their identity.

“We’re not asking everybody to put flags in their yard, we’re asking them to accept everyone for who they are,” Tilley said.  

People interested in camping or taking part in the weekend’s activities can register day-of at Spruce Haven in Caribou, or online via the Pride Aroostook Facebook page. The parade is open to all participants.

Parade Stops:

Houlton (Marden’s Lot) and Fort Kent (UMFK): 2:30 p.m.

Mars Hill and Madawaska (Former K-Mart Lot): 3:30 p.m.

Presque Isle (Boys and Girls Club) and Caribou (Melody Roller Rink Lot): 4:15 p.m.

Spruce Haven: 5 p.m.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a misspelling of Tilley’s name.

Hannah Catlin is a reporter at the St. John Valley Times/Fiddlehead Focus in Madawaska, Maine.