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District To Be Official Participant in Portland’s Pride Parade

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District To Be Official Participant in Portland’s Pride Parade
Posted on 06/20/2015
This is the image for the news article titled District To Be Official Participant in Portland’s Pride Parade

The Portland Public Schools will have a formal presence this year in Portland’s annual gay pride parade. District and school staff, school board members and students will participate in the Pride Parade down Congress Street this Saturday, June 20, riding in one of the district’s signature yellow school buses and also marching alongside it.

Although some staff members and students have individually participated in the parade since the late 1990s, this year’s event marks the first time the school district has been an official participant.

“It is time for the Portland Public Schools to become an active participant in this annual event that celebrates inclusivity, diversity and unity,” said Portland Schools Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk. “As Maine’s largest and most diverse school district, we share those same values. We are delighted to have this opportunity to show our students, staff and families that we welcome and value everyone in the Portland Public Schools, and that a core value of our district is safety and respect for all.”

Betsy Parsons, a retired Portland Public Schools teacher and founding member of GLSEN-Southern Maine (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, Southern Maine Chapter), said, “The official organizational presence of the Portland Public Schools in the Pride Parade is a deeply moving experience for me. The district's public support will broadcast a wonderful message of inclusion, safety and support for learning and teaching all over Maine, giving strength and hope not only to LGBTQ-and-allied students, staff and parents in Portland and southern Maine, but to LGBTQ-and-allied members of rural school communities statewide as well.” LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning.

Caulk and Parsons noted that the district’s presence in the Pride Parade carries numerous benefits for students and staff. Those benefits include:

• Improved student attendance and academic achievement: Studies show that because of the levels of hate language and harassment that LGBTQ students experience in schools, on buses and on school grounds, they skip school out of fear for their safety at five times the rate of the general population. The Portland Public Schools’ public support contributes to students’ safety and helps them feel more encouraged to attend school – which helps them learn more and get better grades.

• A greater high school graduation rate and increased aspirations for further education: When students attend school more regularly and earn better grades, they are more likely to complete high school and aspire to postsecondary education. LGBTQ students lag behind in these areas.

• Improved student mental health: Studies show that LGBTQ students who feel supported in school, who can see openly supportive adults, and who can see fully out LGBT teachers and staff feel more hope for their lives, do better in school, graduate at higher rates, commit less self-harm, suffer less depression and are less inclined to consider suicide or to die by suicide.

• Improved support for the district’s LGBT staff: The district’s public support enhances staff’s sense of being safe and valued in their workplace, helping them to realize their full potential to teach and serve. It can also help more of them be more fully out in their LGBT identity at work, which helps LGBTQ students feel supported and accepted at school.  

 • Promotion of family involvement: When the district sends a clear message of welcome and safety, that encourages more adults to become involved in parent conferencing, volunteering and other forms of support for their children’s education and the strength of district schools.

The annual Pride Parade is organized by Pride Portland! The 2015 parade begins at noon in Monument Square and wends its way along Congress and High Streets to Park Avenue and ends at Deering Oaks Park.

Parsons, who was a pioneer when she came out as a lesbian teacher at Deering High School in the late 1990s, was one of the first Portland Public Schools’ staff to march in the parade. She said that she and a school counselor were the only ones from the district participating in those years. They marched with a few other Southern Maine educators and friends, carrying the GLSEN banner.

Then, Parsons said, students from the Portland High School Gay-Straight Alliance (now called the Gay, Straight and Transgender Alliance or GSTA) carried the GLSEN banner in the parade in 2006 for the first time. The group has marched ever since and has been joined by GSTA members from Portland’s other public high schools, as well as staff.

In June 2014, Parsons said, 55 students and staff from 16 Maine high schools marched under the GLSEN banner, which promotes safe schools.

(PHOTO CAPTION: The image depicted is of students in another community outside of Maine riding a school bus in a Pride Parade. Image courtesy of jglsongs/Flickr.)