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PPS Proud Part of Pride Parade for First Time

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PPS Proud Part of Pride Parade for First Time
Posted on 06/22/2015
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A group of more than 50 people, including Portland Public Schools students and staff and their families, as well as school board members, represented the district in Portland’s annual gay pride parade on Saturday, June 20.

This was the first year that the district had a formal presence in the Pride Parade. Many of the PPS participants marched in front of one of the district’s signature yellow schools buses, but some rode inside the b us, waving rainbow colored flags out the window.

The parade started at Monument Square and ended at Deering Oaks Park, and the crowds lining Congress and High streets along the way erupted into loud cheers as the PPS group passed by.

Although some staff members and students have individually participated in the parade since the late 1990s, this year’s parade marked the first time the school district registered as 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), marched with the other PPS participants. “The official organizational presence of the Portland Public Schools in the Pride Parade is a deeply moving experience for me,” Parsons said. She said the district's public support “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!

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.
Board and CO staff at Pridekids and bus at Pride
Betsy Parsons at PrideBus in Pride Parade

Board members at Pridegroup Pride photoPride photo by Marcia SalemBus Pride photo by Marcia Salem