25 Years of Progress
EqualityMaine was first known as the Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance (MLGPA). The group was founded in response to the July 1984 murder of Charlie Howard, a young Bangor man who was attacked and murdered simply because he was gay.
There was another catalyst that summer: Dale McCormick, a longtime champion of equal rights, was among those chosen to represent Maine at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. Upon her return, McCormick and other openly gay Mainers realized it was time to come together and build political power for the state's LGBT community through advocacy, education and lobbying.
MLGPA began with an ambitious desire for full equality, but as a practical matter, it had a humble start. A band of volunteers went to work with $147 that they'd raised by setting up a table at a local autumn festival.
MLGPA's founding documents were handwritten in a spiral notebook, along with a to-do list of "Nitty-Gritties: checking account, P.O. box fee."
In the mid-1980s Maine -- like many other states -- was just starting to engage in new conversations about fairness and equality. Should the state improve access to public facilities for disabled and handicapped citizens? Should women in the state government receive pay equal to their male colleagues? Click here to read the MLGPA's very first membership appeal.
The original mission statement of the MLGPA
"MLGPA is a statewide, nonpartisan organization formed to educate the general public, politicians, and the media concerning lesbian and gay issues. Our primary goals are to involve the lesbian and gay community in Maine's political process, promote civil rights in Maine, develop and review legislation, endorse candidates, build coalitions and network with state and national human rights organizations."
One of MLGPA's earliest projects was a survey, completed in 1985, that measured the impact of violence and discrimination in LGBT Mainers' lives. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they had concealed their sexual orientation in order to avoid discrimination on the job; almost 30 percent had been fired or denied promotions because their bosses learned they were gay. Almost one-quarter of respondents had been denied service in a hotel or restaurant, and 54 percent had been victims of violence motivated by their sexual orientation. Clearly, the need for non-discrimination protections was real and urgent.
For two decades MLGPA worked to build support for legislation that would protect LGBT Mainers from discrimination, and to include attacks on LGBT citizens under the state's definition of hate crimes. The latter goal was achieved with an amendment to the Maine Civil Rights Act in 1993, nearly 10 years after Charlie Howard's death. Click here to see more from the MLGPA/EqualityMaine archives.
The enactment of Maine's non-discrimination law in 2005 was the culmination of efforts by MLGPA, its coalition partners, fair-minded legislators and thousands of volunteers who contributed time, energy and resources to the campaign. Years of hard work paid off when, in an overwhelming majority, Maine voters struck down a referendum that sought to overturn the 2005 non-dicrimination bill. Maine became the last New England state to protect its LGBT citizens from discrimination in employment, credit, housing, public accommodations and education.
While non-discrimination legislation and hate crimes protections were early and important goals, EqualityMaine -- the name MLGPA adopted in 2004 -- has worked on a number of other fronts, including family medical leave and state health policies. In recent years we have helped pass major health legislation, including the HIV/AIDS Medicaid Waiver, which expands health care access to HIV-positive individuals who live below the federal poverty line.
On the national level, we have called for a fully-inclusive federal Employment Non-Discrimination law (ENDA) to improve upon the current ENDA that excludes transgender citizens. We have also called for repealing the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that perpetuates discrimination against LGBT Americans who serve their country with honor. Our conversations with Maine's Congressional delegation are ongoing, and we will continue to make equality a priority in Washington, as well as in Augusta.
"Our work on the No on 1 [non-discrimination] campaign taught us to disagree with each other, and still move forward. To face our own fears, and the prejudice of others, and continue to put one foot in front of the other."
-Karen Geraghty, MLGPA President, 1996
EqualityMaine's legislative work has made headlines, but in many ways, the story of these victories has taken place behind the scenes. We've grown from a handful of volunteers to a full-time staff of five, plus an active board of directors and several part-time consultants. Our membership spans the state, including everyone from high school students to great-grandparents. Our volunteers number in the hundreds -- and whether they're stuffing envelopes, working at the polls, phonebanking or gathering signatures, they're advancing the cause of equality, one day at a time.
Our success is your success. Thank you for standing with us.
So what lies ahead? What can we achieve in the next 25 years? We don't have a crystal ball, but we know one thing for certain: a conversation about marriage equality has begun in America, and we are eager to bring that conversation to life here in Maine. Already, four of the six New England states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire) have decided that it’s unfair and wrong to block same-sex couples from the protections and responsibilities that only civil marriage can convey.
There are those who say marriage equality is an impossible dream. Twenty-five... 20... even 10 years ago, MLGPA's members were told, time and time again, that non-discrimination legislation was beyond their reach. In 1984, who could have envisioned a Maine in which comprehensive non-discrimination legislation was law; the state's Family Medical Leave Act covered same-sex partners; and same-sex couples could jointly adopt?
We could. Our members could. That's why we kept working, and that's why we won.
We've come a long way since we began. And we'll keep going until LGBT citizens have full equality in the hearts and minds of Maine people, and in all areas of the law.