When gay and lesbian couples travel, their research can never be as simple as a catalog of attractions. The question “Am I welcome?” lingers in the back or the front of the mind. It’s unfortunate but true that in 21st Century America there are still some places where gay and lesbian couples can be shoved onto the street — or shoved on the street — for the simple act of holding hands. Dealing with harassment and hostile stares is just no fun while you’re on vacation.
Gay and lesbian couples thinking of traveling to Maine are probably aware that in November of 2009, a narrow majority of Mainers decided they don’t deserve the basic legal respect of equality. Slightly more than half of Maine voters acted to exclude same-sex couples from the community of marriage. But on the bright converse side, a very large minority of Mainers vehemently disagreed at the ballot box, declaring their support for gay and lesbian equality. A review of the geography of voting in Maine reveals that “YES” (yes to discrimination) voters and “NO” (no to discrimination) voters in the state aren’t evenly distributed. There are areas in which support for gay and lesbian equality is high. These are places where gay and lesbian people visiting Maine can consider themselves welcome.
As part of my project to catalog the towns in Maine by their November 2009 vote, I’ve generated the map of the Kennebec County you see below. The towns of Kennebec County are color coded according to voting behavior on Ballot Question 1, the measure that repealed the equal rights of gay and lesbian Mainers. Pink and yellow towns are gay-unfriendly places where a majority of voters acted to reject equal rights. Green and blue towns, on the other hand, are gay-friendly places where a majority of voters acted in defense of the equality of same-sex couples. (There are two locations colored white; Unity is an unincorporated area in Kennebec County and has no precinct. Vienna came down to a tie vote, with 153 voting YES and 153 voting NO).
As you can see, Kennebec County is dominated by the gay-unfriendly colors of yellow and pink. The pattern is not as simple as some urban-rural divide. Augusta, which is not only the largest city in Kennebec County but is also the state capital city, nevertheless voted in a majority against gay and lesbian people being able to have full marriage rights. Next-door Hallowell is a town of barely more than 2,000 people and yet voted firmly in defense of marriage equality (check out Hallowell’s community Gaslight theater when you’re next in town). Gay-friendly Readfield is about that size, too. Wayne is even smaller, with a year-round population of just 1,100 very nice people (and a whole lot more fish).
Neither is the pattern one of global tolerance versus global intolerance. The town of Vassalboro was open-minded enough to welcome a topless coffee shop where waiters and waitresses bare their nipples as they pour the cream in patrons’ coffee, but voted overwhelmingly against the right of gay and lesbian people who love each other to get married. Waterville hosts prestigious Colby College, the educational enterprise of which brings worldly thinking to the town, the kind of openness that extends above the cleavage.