In the Brat Pack classic The Breakfast Club, students from diverse backgrounds come together to realize they share many common feelings and problems. In the iconic movie, the brain, the athlete, the basketcase, the princess and the criminal face similar judgments despite looking like they have nothing in common.
Like the kids in the movie, the members of the LGBTQ+ community appear different from the heterosexual community–and each other–yet share similar experiences when it comes to bigotry, prejudice and acceptance. The all-volunteer Maui Pride board of directors began a transformation in 2015 to better represent that diversity (including the addition of the single mom journalist who is writing this article). “With the community’s help, Maui Pride has been able to focus on being all inclusive,” said board President Paul Tonnessen.
The board continues to evolve, recently voting in its first teen member, Zofia Kayian, a student at Seabury Hall; it also welcomed to the board Robyn Walters, who describes herself as an 80-year-old post-op transwoman and a Naval Academy Graduate Engineer married to a somewhat younger transman.
When acknowledging the board, it often sounds like “The Breakfast Club:” “the gays,” “the lesbian,” “the transwoman,” “the teen” and “the ally.” The official board line-up includes Zofia; Robyn; Tonnessen, executive director at Friends of The Children’s Justice Center of Maui; vice-president Chuck Spence, former owner/operator of the Maui Sunseeker Resort; treasurer Richard Carr from Habitat for Humanity; Valerie Clark, former president of the Greater Boston Business Council, Boston’s LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce; and myself.
“Diversity is important for those of us who work in board positions,” Walters said. “Coming from different backgrounds, different experiences, we hope that at least one of us will be able to directly relate to the concerns of someone in the community.”
Before we go any further, here’s a little history. The Stonewall Riots in New York City’s Greenwich Village launched the gay liberation movement in 1969, laying the foundation for the United States’ fight for LGBT rights.
In Hawaii, the marriage equality movement has been advancing for decades. The lawsuit Baehr v. Miike (originally Baehr v. Lewin) was filed in 1990 when three same-sex couples argued that Hawaii’s prohibition of same-sex marriage violated the state constitution. As the case moved through the state courts, the passage of an amendment to the state constitution led to the dismissal of the case in 1999.
After the dismissal, dozens of statutes and constitutional amendments banning same-sex unions at the state level followed; those legal actions are credited for creating a foundation for the enactment of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act. In Hawaii, the state Legislature held a special session in October 2013, and passed the Hawaii Marriage Equality Act legalizing same-sex marriage in December of that year.
Marriage equality became the law of the land at the Federal level in June 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution requires states to license and recognize same-sex marriages.
Despite the progress, the battle for equality continues; direct and subconscious bigotry exists across the country today. From the 2016 shooting in Orlando to the recent rise of white supremacy, it’s painfully obvious that the battle for equal rights is far from over.
With the evolution of the board, Pride is working toward making a greater impact in the community. The local nonprofit also has refined its scholarship and educational programs while organizing events that embrace the entire Maui population.
“We are pleased to bring Maui Pride back to the original principle and mission on which we were founded,” Tonnessen said. That mission is to produce events which promote the social and civil rights of the Sexual Minority Community; to educate the public about social and civil rights, and other contributions of the LGBTQ+ community; and to provide scholarships and educational opportunities to LGBTQ youth.
The youth community has been a focus of recent board activity. In the past two years, MP has helped launch several “safe zone” activities for LGBT youth and heterosexual allies. Maui’s first “Alternative Prom” went over so well that the second annual event is confirmed. And the annual Valentine’s Day Whalebration–where people literally from ages 8-80 celebrate the fact that Love is Love–is a highlight for Maui Pride every February. In addition, teen board member Zofia and Hiwa Grieg created, launched and maintain Pride’s first teen-run Instagram account (@Mauipride808).
The board also has begun holding sensitivity training for government officials, law enforcement, church groups and hospitality workers. And its Scholarship Fund has awarded nearly $60,000 to college students.
One of the most moving events hosted by Pride was a memorial for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. But the situation closest to the hearts of board members was helping a near-suicidal transgender kid through the darkest days of his life.
“Suicide is a huge concern,” said Tonnessen. “Forty percent of the transgender community has tried to take their own lives. LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to attempt or commit suicide. It’s astronomical and it is due to society’s pressures.” And teen suicide is not exclusive to the LGBTQ community; “Molokai has one of the highest per-capita suicide rates in the country,” Tonnessen said.
The overwhelming challenges for LGBT teenagers–and increasingly for senior citizens–are major concerns for the board. All year long, Pride works to create a range of inclusive events and activities that appeal to and benefit everyone. The same is true for the 2017 Maui Pride Festival Weekend. “Everyone should be able to enjoy the celebration of our culture and heritage,” Tonnessen said.
The weekend launches Oct. 6 with the Maui Pride Film Festival at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Songbird Cheryl Rae, with Kurt D. Russell accompanying her, will get the evening going at 5:30pm with music in the courtyard; Cheryl received rave reviews following her appearance at this year’s Wahine Week Festival. Opening up for Rae will be singer/songwriter Steve Craig, who will share songs from his new album Earth & Sky.
Craig and Rae will perform individual acoustic sets and then, as a favor to Maui Pride, they will “Come Together” for a Beatles tribute to love and acceptance.
This year’s movie, Equal Means Equal, screens in the McCoy Studio Theater at 7pm. The documentary, which makes a case for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, looks at how women are treated today.
This is the first year the Film Festival is not screening exclusively LGBT movies. “For me, as a gay man, I can relate to the struggle of women,” Tonnessen said. “The challenges and discrimination are parallel. Segregation is not acceptable. Hate is hate. Discrimination is discrimination.”
The movie will be followed by a Q&A with co-presenters Deborah Vial and Caron Barrett, both of whom went to New York for the National Women’s March. Food and beverages will be available during the social hour. The cost of the event is $10, and tickets are available at the MACC box office.
The Film Fest is one of two official Maui Pride events; however, there are several complementary events during the weekend including dance parties, a hike, brunch and beach parties. “We let the experts handle what they do best,” Tonnessen said.
Friday night after the Film Festival, DJ La Rage, DJ Playwfire Ono and DJ Kurt present a Pajama Party at Kono’s on the Green. The 21+ jammie jam begins at 9 pm; $5 donation. Saturday gets underway at 8:30 am with a nature hike to the Wind Turbines. The official 2017 Maui Pride Festival, Saturday, Oct. 7, will take over the grounds of Trinity Episcopal Church by the Sea in Kihei from 11am to 3pm.
The festivities begin with a Rainbow Pet Parade, followed by a talent show exclusively for kids and teens; all types of talent are welcome. In addition to song and dance, participants can read a poem, display a painting or try their hand at comedy. The art can be outrageous, simple or deep; Pride encourages kids to embrace life and participate in this easy-peazy, go with the flow talent contest. Kathy Collins will be one of the special guest judges.
The festival will culminate with The 2017 Gay Games, a party-style competition in which skill as well as lack of inhibitions are assets. Games at past Prides include the Body Balloon Bust, the Hanging Ball Race and The Freeze.
An intimate marketplace will dot the landscape with a variety of vendors. Picnics, beach chairs, blankets, and coolers are welcome. This is a free event.
Saturday night, #PoundTown and ManCandy Productions present the Maui Pride Drag Show and Dance Party from 9pm to 3am at Pharaoh’s Temple game room in Ma‘alaea. It’s a 21 and over event; $15; and BYOB.
Sunday morning, Pride begins at 10:30am with a brunch hosted by Nalu’s South Shore Grill. Following brunch, there are at least two independent beach party/BBQs–one in Kihei and one in Makena. Additional details for all of the events including the hike and beach parties can be found on Facebook.com/MauiPride or at Mauipride.org.
Cover design: Darris Hurst