Pedestrians use a rainbow-colored crosswalk on Franklin Street in downtown Ellsworth on June 8, 2022. Three years after rejecting a request to paint a downtown crosswalk in rainbow colors as a show of support for LGBTQ people, the city has proclaimed June 2023 to be Pride month. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

Three years after the Ellsworth City Council denied a request to paint a downtown crosswalk in rainbow colors, the council has voted to proclaim June as Pride Month in the city.

For the past two years, a daylong celebration of LGBTQ culture has been held in June organized by local group Ellsworth Pride. But this is the first time the city has declared June to be Pride Month.

The vote shows a gradual softening among city officials toward showing support for the LGBTQ community — both local residents and tourists who funnel through the city during the busy summer months.

“We hope to see this become an annual tradition,” said Nicholas Navarre, a spokesperson for the Ellsworth Pride group. “It is a significant historic step in building acceptance and inclusion within our community. We see it as a clear message that our community is for all citizens regardless of sexuality or gender identity.” 

The council adopted the proclamation this week without discussion, but there were two residents who spoke up on the measure.

Local resident Rachel Yves urged the council to support it.

“I am a member of the Ellsworth community and I am gay,” Yves said. “I would like to feel safe and welcome in this community. I believe in morals. I believe in ethics. I believe in the freedom of religion, and I believe it is my freedom in this country, based on this constitution, to live here and live within my own morals.”

But John Linnehan, a conservative Christian who three times has run for and lost a City Council seat, pushed councilors to reject the declaration.

“According to the Bible, homosexuality and lesbianism are wicked and evil sins,” Linnehan said. “Please don’t let the City — C-I-T-Y — of Ellsworth be renamed the Sinty of Ellsworth — S-I-N-T-Y. If Ellsworth approves that, in my opinion, we’re going to be looking at it as a proclamation for Shame Month in Ellsworth.”

The council voted 6-1 on Monday to support the Pride Month proclamation. Gene Lyons was the sole councilor to vote against it.

The proclamation comes roughly a month before Ellsworth Pride plans to hold its third annual festival in the city on June 11 in Knowlton Park. Organizers say the event will be free and family friendly and will include, among other things, a drag queen story hour, live music, yoga, food vendors, and a drag show.

Pride events have been held around the country for decades, but the first event in Ellsworth was in 2021, a year after the city drew attention for rejecting a request from local high school students to paint a downtown crosswalk in rainbow colors. The students, members of Ellsworth High School’s Gender Sexuality Diversity Alliance, were granted permission by the city’s school board to paint crosswalks at the local middle and high schools, but in 2020 the council said “no” when they asked to paint a crosswalk downtown, too.

Since that de facto denial in August 2020, which resulted from a split 3-3 vote with one abstention, six new councilors have been elected to the seven-member City Council. The only councilor now serving who was on the council at the time is Dale Hamilton, the council chairman.

In March 2022, when the student group again asked the council for a downtown rainbow crosswalk, it was approved by a 4-3 vote.

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....