LEWISTON — Christian advocate Michael Heath says there’s an “obvious” connection between the planned Topless March for Gender Equity in Farmington this Friday and advancing “the agenda of the homosexual rights movement.”
Not so, said march organizer Andrea Simoneau, a 22-year-old history major at the University of Maine at Farmington.
“I’m a little upset that (Heath) is trying to make that connection,” Simoneau said. Heath is the former head of the Christian Civic League of Maine and current director of the American Family Association of Maine.
“Personally, I support gay rights," Simoneau said. "But this has nothing to do with gay rights.” The event is intended to promote social acceptance of women going topless in public, she said. The march “is about equal rights for women.”
Simoneau, a senior at UMF, participated in the topless demonstration in Portland in early April, along with about three dozen others, and was inspired to organize something in her college town. So far, about 70 people have registered through Facebook to participate, she said, but she’s not sure whether they’ll all attend.
On Tuesday, Heath mailed a Freedom of Access Act request to UMF President Theodora Kalikow seeking correspondence, including e-mail and other writings, of any communication among the university and state and national homosexual rights organizations, and correspondence between the university and the Maine Civil Liberties Union or other organization on the subject of homosexual rights.
Heath also is seeking access to university documents that reflect “any contribution, grant, or donation in kind, to the group Equality Maine,” including financial reports showing expenditures to support the organization’s annual awards banquet.
Kalikow was out of the country Tuesday, according to UMF, and had not seen a copy of Heath’s request.
F. Celeste Branham, vice president for student and community services at UMF, said the university was not prepared to comment on Heath’s request until it is received and Kalikow and others have had an opportunity to review it. Heath posted the FOAA Tuesday by overnight delivery, expecting it to be delivered to Kalikow by Wednesday noon.
In his FOAA request, Heath also is seeking access to communications between the university and Simoneau about Friday’s scheduled march.
Heath said Tuesday that he is seeking to expose university support of the advancement of homosexual rights.
Farmington “hosts Maine’s premiere teachers college for public schoolteachers,” Heath said, and people should know if the academic institution supports the homosexual rights movement.
“The public and the American Family Association are very concerned about that,” he said.
He also said his organization and others are concerned about what he calls the “formal and very public financial connection between UMF and the premiere (awards) banquet of Maine’s most radical pro-homosexual organization, Equality Maine.”
The university declined to comment on any relationship with Equality Maine, an organization founded in 1984 to promote equality for Maine's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents. UMF does appear on Equality Maine's website as a major sponsor of the organization's annual awards dinner held in Portland last March.
Simoneau said she was told to expect a fair number of counterprotesters to appear Friday, but she’s hoping they won’t interrupt the 1 p.m. event that steps off at Meetinghouse Park, moving along Main Street and ending at Abbott Park, a distance of about a half-mile.
She has consulted with police about how to instruct topless demonstrators to avoid confrontation, including not engaging counterprotesters in discussions and maintaining a respectful distance from other people along the route.
A success, she said, would be a “peaceful day where everybody had fun and everyone learned something about the legality of toplessness in Maine. And, hopefully, strides being made toward removing the social stigma of taking their tops off in public.”
“I just want it to be peaceful and safe,” she said.
Branham said the march is not university sponsored or endorsed; it is a private event being organized by a private individual.
Simoneau echoed that view, saying the university’s position on her efforts is neutral, that her project is a “private action undertaken by a private citizen of the town.”
A number of local churches have organized a silent female-only prayer protest to coincide with the march. They are planning to line the sidewalk along Farmington’s main street to offer prayer. According to organizer Dovey Balsam, women are invited to join them in peace.
Heath is not planning to attend Friday’s events.