Brewer mayor’s heartfelt response to Orlando

Brewer mayor’s heartfelt response to Orlando

Remarks of Mayor Beverly Uhlenhake of Brewer, Maine at the candlelight vigil in Bangor on Monday:

Good evening, and thank you all for being here tonight. I can’t tell you how much your simple presence here means to so many.

I’ve thought a lot about what I might say tonight. A LOT. But this one is hard. But this one is personal.

So tonight, I probably won’t be as eloquent as some of the other speakers. It’s too close, and it’s too painful.

I won’t talk tonight about guns (although I could). I won’t talk about radical Islam because the killer could have just as easily been a radical American-born Christian, and given our history in this country, it’s actually MORE likely. I won’t talk about politics. My words will be personal. I’m not able to do more yet.

You see, this weekend, I had my Obama/Treyvon Martin moment. I know I could have been in that bar on that night, celebrating Pride. I’m sure 20 years ago I probably was at a gay bar, laughing with friends, dancing to RuPaul, feeling relatively safe in our sanctuary.

So, here’s my story:

I came out at the age of 21. My 21st birthday was spent at Wall Street, a two-story, warehouse-style lesbian bar in downtown Columbus, OH. My friends took me, not because they knew I was gay (I knew; they didn’t), but because it was a place to dance and laugh and be comfortable. And because, let’s face it, the gays play better dance music. There are stereotypes, and then there are truisms.

I had a grand time that night. I felt wonderful. I felt safe. I felt at peace. I saw other people like me, and they saw me. I laughed freely, because I could. That building was full of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals of all races and creeds. There were also drag queens and trans folk, and no, I had no idea which was which, even when they were in the bathroom with me, but many looked better in a dress than I could ever hope to.

But I wasn’t as comfortable in my skin outside the bar. Outside the bar I had to worry about things like what my parents would say. What would my siblings say? Would I be thrown out of the family? Would I be fired from my job? Would I be allowed into grad school? What was my plan if my family disowned me when they found out? I developed that plan. I don’t know of any GLBT person in the 90s (or the 80s or the 70s…) that didn’t have a plan. We saw too much. We knew too many people who needed to use their plan.

But we had Wall Street. That bar. That sanctuary. That place where you might get a drink or bite to eat or simply just be for a couple hours. And that’s part of what stings about these deaths. It’s not just a hate crime. It’s a hate crime that happened in OUR place. Our sanctuary.

Things have changed dramatically over the last twenty years. We’ve fought and won the right to not be fired from our jobs, even though we know it still happens. We’ve won the right to be married in all 50 states. In addition to the many legal protections that I absolutely did not think we’d see in my lifetime, we have won some social wars that make it acceptable to live our lives out loud. We have an out Lesbian Mayor in the City of Brewer, for god’s sake. I AM that lesbian mayor, and I’m still amazed that we’ve got one. But we haven’t won safety. We haven’t won comfort.

I was very specific in my attire for tonight’s event. Black, because we mourn. We mourn those we never met. We mourn our sanctuary. And we mourn that little piece of our souls that thought this couldn’t happen. And red, because it reminds me of the day we spent in Augusta in 2009, fighting for our right to get married. There were over 4,000 people in the Civic Center, and at least two-thirds of them were wearing red for love. It was a sea of red; a sea of love.

I don’t have any amazing words of wisdom that will make this feel all better. My kids still believe me when I tell them that I can kiss their booboo and make it better. I can’t. What I can tell you is this. I will continue to wear red for love. I will continue to fight for that safety and comfort. I will continue to live out loud.

I figure that as long as I’m reminiscing about the 90s and dancing, I may as well end with a quote from a movie of the 80’s.

‘From the oldest of times, people danced for a number of reasons. They danced in prayer… or so that their crops would be plentiful… or so their hunt would be good. And they danced to stay physically fit… and show their community spirit. And they danced to celebrate.

There is a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to laugh… and a time to weep. A time to mourn… and there is a time to dance. See, this is our time to dance. It is our way of celebrating life. It’s the way it was in the beginning. It’s the way it’s always been. It’s the way it should be now.’ [Yes, that’s from Footloose.]

In a little less than two weeks, Bangor will celebrate its own version of Pride. We have no bar, but we’ll build ourselves a sanctuary citywide for the weekend. And I suggest we dance.

Photo via Ben Sprague.

About author

Beverly Uhlenhake
Beverly Uhlenhake 1 posts

Beverly Uhlenhake is the mayor of Brewer, Maine.


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