Gia’s State of the Movement Address

It is my distinct honor and privilege to stand before as executive director of EqualityMaine. When I was asked to be a volunteer 12 years ago, I didn’t realize this is what I was signing up for. Looking back, it’s the challenges we’ve overcome and relationships that have developed along the way that make this job my dream job. 

Unfortunately, there are times when this dream job can be terrifying. As a community leader, it can be soul-wrenching to learn about and then process heartbreaking news we’re all too often faced with, like the shootings in Lewiston last October, the ongoing massacre of innocent people in Israel and Gaza, and the starvation of millions in Sudan, to name a few from just the last few months. But it’s also the unrelenting sadness and pain I feel everytime I learn about another community member who as died from a overdose, or when a person can’t find a warm and safe place to sleep, or when a trans person is killed or takes their own life, like young Nex in Oklahoma or River, a younger trans adult who died alone in the back of cold school bus in a Waterville parking lot a few weeks ago. Life can be vicious, and the world around us can seem cruel, but I think there’s more we can do to not only help get through life’s challenges, but also actively engage in the process to make changing the world more accessible. 

Sometimes it feels like we haven’t made progress fast enough, but I remind myself how far we’ve actually come in a relatively short amount of time. You see, what we call the LGBTQ+ movement, didn’t really start until the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. That makes me, born in 1967, older than the movement. I am also reassured by thinking of those who paved the way for us, on whose shoulders I stand on tonight, the people who stuck their necks out, raised their voices, and were visible at times that were so different than today. Like Marsha P. Johnson, Miss Major, and Sylvia Rivera, luminaries that helped us find our way out of the dark. 

Some trailblazers are here tonight, like Barb Wood, the first out elected official in Maine, Dale McCormick, the first out lesbian state senator in the country, and Steve Bull, founder of Wilde-Stein, one of the first LGBTQ student groups on a college campus at UMaine Orono in 1973. 

I also want to salute all the other current and former elected officials who are with us tonight. It’s because of their leadership and stewardship of freedom and justice that we have made such progress, have been able to protect our important gains, and I know will continue to push towards a better world for us all.

Knowing someone has your back, especially when times are difficult or work demands are relentless, is such a relief. This includes EqualityMaine’s staff and interns, our irreplaceable volunteers, and our board of directors, that helps keep me on course. 

But most importantly, I am most often inspired and lifted up by you, because you’re not a two-dimensional monolith, you’re not a stereotype or meme, you’re much more than iconic. Each of you are individuals with hopes and dreams that are uniquely your own. And together, we are a family, stronger than you know. You’re my secret weapon, my armor, stitched together like a patchwork quilt, made with laughter, time, wisdom, tears, dirt, spit, cum, blood, patience, perseverance, and most importantly, love. 

So thank you, for being you, and being with us tonight!

I am thrilled to celebrate with you our 39 years as Maine’s LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, to honor some extraordinary people and organizations that have helped get us to where we are today, to look ahead to the future we all deserve, and experience the joy of being part of this special community. 

When I last spoke with you a year ago, we were immersed in one of the most anti-LGBTQ+ legislatures in our history, but also one of the most challenging years for our community across the country. Here in Maine, we not only beat back more than 30 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the state house, we also passed some historic laws as well, like ensuring 16 & 17 year olds, who are at odds with their parent or parents, can still have access to hormones as part of their gender affirming healthcare plan and having x markers on every government form. 

Just this week, we, along with our coalition partners, helped usher a bill out of committee. LD 227 would make Maine a shield state, protecting people seeking gender-affirming care and reproductive care, as well as protecting Maine’s medical providers from overreach from other states. This historic bill would send a powerful message to transgender people and their families that Maine can be a refuge from the political storms raging across the country. Unfortunately, this bill has garnered intense national attention from the opposition, including bomb threats against the state capital and against the two sponsors. But undeterred, our staunch pro-equality elected officials are committed to seeing this bill across the finish line in the coming weeks. 

Knowing how crucial this upcoming election will be, it’s imperative that we take stock in what we know about who’s on the ballot and what they stand for. You have the power when you vote to choose pro-equality candidates that have our backs. Without them, our humanity is at risk at every level of government: from your town councils and school boards, to the state house, and to Washington DC. Please – don’t sit this one out. There’s too much at stake, especially for the most vulnerable among us, like our younger community members who can’t vote yet. 

As our team and ambition grows, and the needs of our community become clearer, we know that our capacity to do this important work is being tested. But our development team is more than up to the challenge, and thanks to the leadership of our development director, Heide Lester, who is supported by our communications manager, Jessi Holleran and communications intern Ava, we are doing a better job of stewarding relationships with Maine businesses and donors! We’re listening and communicating with all of you with greater care.  

With the addition of our new youth and education coordinator, Kelly Steinhagen last spring, we were able to hold our 14th New Leaders Project at a summer camp in bucolic Washington, Maine, last August. Over 40 campers and counselors spent a full week learning, growing, and finding their voices as tomorrow’s leaders, and without their cell phones. Last month, we just completed our first ever winter leadership program, OUT on the Snow with our friends at the Campfire Institute. And we’ve already opened registration for this year’s summer camp, and the spots are filling up quickly. 

With the addition of Kelly, we’ve been able to improve and refine our education programs. In the past year alone, we received nearly 70 requests from schools, social services agencies, state government, law firms, businesses, and places of worship to help them make their communities more welcoming and inclusive of us all. 

Under the direction of our program director Nem Knight, not only have our youth and education programs blossomed, our annual events are sell-outs, like our pride cruise, our sporting events with the Celtics and Mariners, and our annual awards celebration tonight. Additionally, our Network for Older Adults is growing by leaps and bounds, now with a dedicated staff to focus on this very special population. Izzy Ostrowski, along with the support of our intern Emily, have put together a series of programs that include biweekly check-ins on Zoom, monthly meals in several locations, including Augusta, Ellsworth, Portland, and Houlton. We also have other programs specifically tailored for and by older adults, like our one-of-a-kind education training for long-term care facilities and agencies that support older adults, so no one has to go back in the closet when they age and need the care they deserve. As I approach sixty, and think about what aging looks like for me, I worry a little, not having family close-by or any children to check in on me, but knowing there are programs like these here in Maine, a center like the ECC in Portland, and a community that really cares about its elders, I am more than comforted. 

Similar Posts