Michelle Patrick said it was hard to muster the strength to set up a booth during the Old Port Festival Sunday, just hours after a gunman killed 49 and wounded dozens more at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
“It’s certainly hard to be festive in light of what happened. It’s an incredible tragedy — unimaginable really,” said Patrick, one of two co-chairpeople of the Pride Portland festival steering committee. “It was really hard to be there.”
But as the hours passed, she came to see the value in it. The booth became a beacon for those at the festival looking for comfort, reassuring words and a sense of community in the aftermath of the tragedy.
A small group of women who happened to be visiting Portland from Orlando were among those who gravitated toward the rainbow flags.
“They had friends who go to that club, and they were still waiting to hear from them,” Patrick recalled. “It was important for them to have us there and to have someone they could talk to about it.”
Pride Portland is annually one of the happiest, most colorful events in Maine’s largest city. This year, the 10 days of events had barely kicked off — the opening party was held Friday night — before the Orlando massacre cast its dark shadow.
Patrick said organizers won’t cancel any activities, although Portland police have acknowledged the need for vigilance with the nightclub shooting still fresh in mind.
But Patrick said this year’s Pride will have to take on something of a healing property.
“As heinous as this is, nobody’s going back in the closet over this. If anything, people are coming out strong to support us,” she said. “Community is really going to be here for each other. I think it’s going to be a healing time.”