An attack on LGBT Mainers is lurking in the shadows

A new and dangerous campaign to gut Maine’s Human Rights Act, which protects people from discrimination, is ready to begin collecting signatures.

Zealot Michael Heath is on the verge of launching a ballot initiative attacking gay and transgender people in the state — again.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap confirmed Tuesday that Heath has completed all but the final step in starting a petition drive. The proposed ballot initiative would remove “sexual orientation” from the law and legalize discrimination against gay and transgender people.

Heath, a longtime opponent of gay and transgender rights, has submitted language, which has been approved by the secretary of state, and completed other necessary steps. All that needs to happen now is for Heath to pick up the approved petition and start collecting signatures.

In 2005, the Maine Legislature and Gov. John Baldacci passed legislation adding “sexual orientation” to the act. Heath and others led an effort to repeal the law, which voters rejected later that year.

Despite a nasty, fear-based campaign, Heath and his co-conspirators came up short. But his attacks on LGBT Mainers have never really stopped, even as he was pushed aside from the Christian Civic League of Maine, the organization he once led.

In 2012, he tried to enter the campaign against allowing all loving, committed couples in Maine to marry. He held a hateful press conference in Augusta, and then fizzled back into obscurity. Maine voters later that year became the first to allow same-sex couples to marry. (I was the communications director on the campaign supporting marriage).

Michael Heath speaks at the Maine State House in 2013. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Michael Heath speaks at the Maine State House in 2013. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

During that event, Heath called homosexuality “intrinsically harmful and evil.” But that’s not the worst of the things he has said. In his blog, he wrote that “the so-called ‘gay’ movement is rooted in sorcery and it is a child of the devil, and an enemy of everything that is right.”

He’s even suggested that supporters of same-sex marriage should be “cast into the sea with a millstone hung about their neck.”

In Maine, the law protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment, public accommodations, housing, credit and education has been on the books for more than a decade.

It has protected people and made sure that they couldn’t lose their homes or their jobs because of who they love.

It would be easy enough to dismiss Heath. His most recent political efforts have failed miserably. He’s been disowned by many of his old allies and his angry, dangerous rhetoric is out of touch with the way most people feel about their gay and transgender neighbors, friends and families.

But we can’t let this effort sneak up on us, and we can’t dismiss it out of hand.

As the Bangor Daily News warned us in an editorial last week, “Maine is fortunate to have already extended anti-discrimination protections to people based on sexual orientation and gender identity in 2005. But it’s dangerous, especially with [Paul] LePage as governor, to think that move settled the debate here in the Pine Tree State.”

LePage, clearly with little understanding of the issue, weighed in to oppose a transgender person’s ability to use the appropriate bathroom in Virginia, and he’s blocked rulemaking to protect transgender kids in Maine.

Earlier this month, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory called a special session specifically to undo a local anti-discrimination ordinance in Charlotte. The Legislature followed his lead and the consequences have been severe.

McCrory’s actions have caused a huge backlash, similar to what happened in Indiana when the governor there took similar action. Businesses have raised their voices loudly opposing the legislation.

The Charlotte Observer called McCrory’s actions a “sprint past the bathroom door and straight into the South’s dark, bigoted past” and The New York Times called McCrory a “pioneer of bigotry.”

Discrimination is bad for business. And this week, PayPal joined the chorus and announced that McCrory’s bigoted law would cost North Carolina 400 jobs. And that’s just the beginning.

Heath is badly damaged in Maine and has not demonstrated that he can either raise the money necessary for a campaign or rally the public to his cause.

Most Mainers agree that discrimination is wrong, and they have rejected Heath’s appeals to fear and hate.

But there are others, including LePage, who could take up his cause — and perhaps his campaign — and force our state into another unnecessary and divisive fight. A fight with the sole purpose of making it legal to discriminate against some people.

Maybe Heath has thought better of this plan and will let the petition languish in Augusta. Or maybe he’s just waiting for a time of his choosing to go public with his latest anti-LGBT attack.

For the harm it would cause our state and the damage it would do to our friends, family and neighbors, we have to take this seriously even if Heath doesn’t seem like much of a threat.

If you give hate room to grow, this year has shown that it can take root.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at