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PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Pride Aroostook, the local LGBTQ+ community in northern Maine, says the recent hate incident makes them more determined to educate people through planned events.
The hate-filled slogan painted on the Presque Isle Congregational Church was discovered by a Post Office employee on Sept. 19, who reported it to the Presque Isle Police Department, according to Calvin Hall, church moderator. A rainbow flag also was defaced. The church is part of the United Church of Christ, which is an open and affirming sect of congregationalism.
In response to the incident, Pride Aroostook plans to move ahead with plans for events that bring more public visibility to the LGBTQ+ community while providing safe and welcoming spaces for people who identify as LGBTQ+ in Aroostook County. The church graffiti is the latest in a slew of incidents of public hate speech targeting minorities, Jewish and LGBTQ+ communities in Maine.
“This incident has shown us that we need to increase our visibility and support,” said Shawna Traugh, Pride Aroostook committee member. “We are always open to having conversations with people of differing viewpoints and opinions.”
Members of the church worked in light rain to remove the graffiti as quickly as possible and take down the vandalized pride flag.
Pride Aroostook arrived at the church for its monthly meeting while the work crew was painting over the graffiti on the building.
There are people in the LGBTQ+ community who are struggling with suicide and emotional pain from not being accepted or allowed to express themselves, Traugh said.
The person or people who targeted the church need more information about the LGBTQ+ community that debunks misinformation they have read, she said.
“We need to stop stigmatizing and separating people that we perceive as different than us. Uniting as a community is essential,” Traugh said. “Pride Aroostook is here to create that safe space and that unity.”
Pride Aroostook’s role isn’t to change the opinions of others but to start conversations that increase advocacy through education and awareness of the LGBTQ+ community, she said.
“Everybody is tremendously sad that there’s someone out there with such a hateful viewpoint,” Fort Fairfield Rev. Diane Langworthy said.
Older members of the LGBTQ+ community have memories of being terrorized with threats of violence that would force them into hiding, Langworthy said. She hopes the Presque Isle community stands together against hate.
The Presque Isle Congregational Church was recognized on Nov. 7, 2021, by the United Church of Christ’s Open and Affirming Coalition as an open and affirming congregation, which welcomes people of all sexual orientation, gender identities and gender expressions.
“We have become a welcoming and diverse church through a process of the congregational UCC system and we have made no bones about the fact that we welcome all to our church,” said Calvin Hall, Presque Isle Congregational Church moderator.
The congregation remains emboldened in the pursuit of justice as one people created equally, he said.
“As a congregation, we are sad that somebody would make the choice to do that,” Hall said. “We do consider it a hateful choice.”
Pride Aroostook meets weekly but will switch to bi-monthly meetings after October 2023.
Two upcoming events to increase visibility are the Delicious Divas Drag Show happening on Oct. 21 at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, along with a New Year’s event at the Northeastland Hotel.
Pride Aroostook has a Facebook and Instagram page to post when and where their meetings and events take place.