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Faces of Pride | Gia Drew of EqualityMaine shares her story, hopes for future

Drew was just named executive director of the state's largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organization.

PORTLAND, Maine — Gia Drew spent decades of her life hiding who she really was.

"I got called names. I got pushed into lockers. You know that's hard when you're young, and it forced me to hide who I was from the world," Drew said. "So I put up all these things to pretend I was someone I wasn't."

Drew is bisexual and transgender, identities she said she did not fully come to accept until she was in her 40s. 

She was a school teacher and coach when she found the strength to transition and come out publicly. Drew said it took a lot of support from others in the LGBTQ+ community, her family and friends to know it was the right time.

"When I came out to my students, I said, 'By the way, I'm looking a little different, could you call me Ms. Drew instead of Mr. Drew?' And they were like, 'Yeah, is that on the test?'" she laughed. 

Drew made history as the first "out" trans public school teacher in the state of Maine. 

But it was not an easy road. Despite a supportive family, Drew described years of questioning, hiding, and pain. She said she did not know if it would be safe to be out and possible to keep living a successful life.

"The few times I saw like people who were maybe, like, challenging gender norms, were trans, were really horrible stereotypes of what it meant to be trans," Drew said. "And usually on TV and in movies they were killers. It was horrible. I internalized that for myself, that I hated myself."

Now years later, living as her full self, Drew was just named executive director of the state's leading LGBTQ+ advocacy organization EqualityMaine

Starting as a volunteer in 2012, she rose up in the ranks and last served in the role of program director. She has become an outspoken advocate in Maine, provided countless educational outreach programs to schools and companies, and fought for legislation to prevent discrimination and break down barriers for the LGBTQ+ community.

Maine has some of the strongest laws in the country, including marriage equality first passed in 2012, a ban on conversion therapy passed in 2019, and a rule change to allow non-binary gender markers on state-issued driver's licenses in 2018.

More recently, state republicans have voiced concerns about LGBTQ+ issues, including how they are discussed in schools. The Maine GOP platform put forward this year includes a potential ban on sex education.

When asked about her thoughts on the recent political attempts to challenge and question LGBTQ+ rights, Drew said she is confident supporters and allies overpower the opposition in the state.

"I think I find it sad that people are using this issue as a political thing. We exist," Drew said. "It is unfortunate that folks are using this as a political issue to rally up their base. Because I know the most marginalized the folks who need the support the most are the ones who are hurt by this the most." 

In her new role, Drew vowed to keep working to protect LGBTQ+ Mainers and advance rights they need and deserve.

She said she is hopeful that together Mainers can create a future where, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, they don't have to hide who they truly are. 

"I think folks who are my age or maybe older, many of us have a sort of common tale of harassment bullying or even trauma when we were kids. That shouldn't have to be the story," Drew said. "The story should be of acceptance, celebration, and pride or maybe no story. Imagine a day where we just get to exist and be ourselves, and not have to worry about these are things. But we're not there yet."

If you or someone you love is struggling with their gender identity or sexual orientation, there are resources in Maine. You can find a full list at EqualityMaine.org.

June is Pride Month! There are events happening across at least 16 Maine communities. Click here for more details.

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