Community Conversations

Please click on one of the dates to join us for a series of Community Conversations: 

Sunday, Dec 6 - Augusta
Monday, Dec 7 - Ogunquit 
Tuesday, Dec 8 - Ellsworth
Thursday, Dec 10 - Bangor
Tuesday, Dec 15 - Lewiston*
Wed, Dec 16 - Portland**

* Note: The Lewiston / Auburn Community Coversation was originally scheduled for Wednesday, Dec 10 but due to the massive snowstorm it has been rescheduled for Tuesday, December 15. 

**Note: The Portland Community Conversation was previously scheduled for Tuesday, Dec 15 but is being rescheduled to accommodate for the Downeast Pride Alliance event the same night.  

Board President Matt Dubois on family medical leave

Being the legislative watchdog for the LGBT community puts EqualityMaine in some very interesting situations.

For instance, when we think about LGBT equality, we don’t often think about bills that propose removing clergy signatures from marriage licenses. I suppose that could be a strategy for separating religious marriage from civil marriage, but we were not thinking about using that strategy and we weren’t there to testify for it. We weren’t there to testify against it either. We testified to offer a perspective to the legislature—that a religious blessing of a same-sex relationship is actually very important to some LGBT people.

With 2,400 bills bouncing around the State House last year, it’s no wonder that EqualityMaine had its hand in several issues, even though we orchestrated only one major bill. Between our staff and our lobbyist, Kate Knox, we consulted or testified on LGBT issues including absentee ballots, workers’ compensation, tax filing, HIV/AIDS, clergy signatures, and making it a crime to use a public bathroom.

Yes, you heard correctly. Rep. Brian Duprey introduced a bill that would have made it a crime for a person to use a public bathroom that was designated for use by a gender different than the gender the person was assigned at birth. Under his bill, if you were born a male, you must use the men’s room. The only exception would have been for a person who “completely undergoes a medical procedure” in which that person’s gender is changed.

Well, what exactly qualifies as a “medical procedure”? In some cases, a person’s gender may be changed through hormone treatment. Does that qualify as a “medical procedure”? If not, testified Kael Parker (a young gentleman who stood at the podium), he would be forced to use the women’s bathroom because he was born female. At that moment, our lobbyist leaned over to our executive director and whispered, “The bill’s dead.” Thanks to Kael and trans advocate Jean Vermette, that bill went right into the circular file.

EqualityMaine’s primary piece of legislation in 2007 was an amendment to Maine’s Family Medical Leave Law. Until last year, the law allowed an employee to take time off to care for an ill or dying spouse, but not an ill or dying partner. For LGBT employees working in less-than-supportive environments, this often left them to choose between keeping their job or caring for their ill or dying partner—a choice no one should have to make.

Unfortunately, it was the choice Sandy Osterby was faced with in 2004, when her partner of 23 years was dying from lung cancer and there were no provisions in the law to allow Sandy to take unpaid leave. Sandy did her best to be a good employee and a good provider for her partner Donna, but as Donna deteriorated, she wanted and needed Sandy by her side daily.

It was an act of overwhelming generosity that resolved the situation. Sandy’s co-workers donated their vacation time to a catastrophic leave pool so that Sandy could stay home and care for Donna without risking her job. She was lucky to work with such generous people—but being able to care for your family in time of need shouldn’t be a matter of luck or generosity.

Maine Public Radio was at the legislative hearing when Sandy delivered her testimony. Let’s listen to an excerpt from that story. [MPR audio clip]

Thanks to Sandy and Mike Miles, who were instrumental in helping us pass FMLA. Also instrumental in helping us pass FMLA was Charles Dwyer. His partner of 14 years, Declan, was dying at the time Charles testified at the public hearing. While Declan wanted to testify along with Charles, his body was too weak that day to make the trek safely to Augusta. Declan died just weeks after Charles testified and before the Legislature amended the law to include domestic partners. Because Charles had an employer who put good will above the law, Charles was at Declan’s side for the last several weeks of his life. Charles testified that he was one of the lucky ones—but that caring for a dying partner, without risking one’s job, shouldn’t depend on luck or good will.

Employees should have the weight of the law behind them.

EqualityMaine at 25

This year, EqualityMaine celebrated 25 years of progress for Maine's LGBT community. Check out our 25th anniversary celebration video.

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