On Monday, April 6, Robert Jackson headed out to the empty University of Maine campus and raised the rainbow and trans pride flags himself, kicking off UMaine’s annual Pride Week despite the unusual circumstances this semester. With the event live-streamed from the Rainbow Resource Center’s (RRC) Facebook page, the flags were visible for the entire UMaine community to see, flying high above the Mall.
Each year, the RRC puts on “Pride Week” in early April, allowing the UMaine community to celebrate pride while students are still on campus since the federally-recognized Pride Month is in June. This year, with campus shut down due to COVID-19, the RRC adapted to create a virtual pride week, continuing the tradition of allowing the community to celebrate together while apart.
“It felt so special to see those flags flying over campus, like we were holding space here in Orono for our queer friends and family who find themselves in all corners of the world because of this pandemic,” Jackson said. “Even though I was so isolated physically, that moment I felt so close to and connected to our queer community at UMaine.”
Despite being held earlier than the national Pride Month in June, the intent and spirit of UMaine’s Pride Week is the same. Pride Month occurs in June to honor the Stonewall riot, which took place in 1969 when 200 queer folks fought back against police attempting to raid the Stonewall Inn in New York City. The police attempted to arrest the people inside for things like sodomy, men wearing drag and women wearing less than three items of “feminine clothing,” all of which were illegal at the time.
This year, UMaine’s Pride Week looked a little different than normal. Largely planned and coordinated by Jackson and Jane Pappas, the graduate assistant for the Rainbow Resource Center, Pride Week typically begins to take shape in the fall, after Coming Out Week in October.
“We’d had a full schedule of in-person events planned for Pride Week, and unfortunately we weren’t able to hold some of those events remotely,” Jackson explained. “We took a look at the calendar, determined which events could be done remotely … then moved forward with a modified schedule reaching those events.”
With the unusual circumstances this semester, a task of particular importance for the RRC has been finding ways to continue to connect with and support LGBTQ students since the campus has shut down. Noting that not all students are out at home, or supported and safe wherever they are now, the RRC has focused on adapting to the situation by increasing their social media presence and continuing to be available in remote ways.
“[We] hope that those folks who may not feel safe participating in one of our synchronous events will see our posts and know that we are still here for them, we see them and we stand with them,” Jackson said.
Though the events of Pride Week typically change each year, a staple event of the week each year is the drag show, which last year drew about 800 people, according to Jackson. In addition to the RRC, the Wilde Stein (UMaine’s queer-straight alliance) is also included in the process, and this year the Multicultural Center hosted an event as well.
This year’s virtual Pride Week featured events such as Pride Fitness, which went live on Instagram on Monday Night, a Netflix Party with the RRC and Wilde Stein, and other digital events such as Lunch and Learn, Drag Queen Story Hour, Paint and Sip with Wilde Stein and game night.
The RRC and Wilde Stein’s determination to adapt to the circumstances and continue as a resource for the community allowed for these events to take place and both should be considered safe spaces during this time. Check out both groups on social media, stay connected, stay safe and remember that you’re not alone.