Thank you so much, Representative Guillermo Smith, for the kind introduction. It’s not only an honor to receive an award named for Senator Tammy Baldwin, but to receive an award that you’ve received as well, Carlos, makes this recognition especially memorable. I am fortunate to be in such good company.
As you heard, my name is Ryan Fecteau. I am the Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives. I am the first openly gay speaker in Maine’s history and I am the youngest presiding officer in the United States. I am not the youngest speaker in Maine’s history. We had a speaker in 1842 who bested me in this regard. He passed away at 36 years old; however, so, I hope to out do him in that regard.
I’m truly grateful to the Victory Institute and all who supported my receipt of the Tammy Baldwin Breakthrough Award.
It’s particularly meaningful to be in Washington, D.C. to receive this distinction. I went to The Catholic University of America, here in Washington. During my time at Catholic, I advocated, alongside my peers, for an official recognition of a LGBTQ+ student organization called CUAllies. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts then and efforts by students since, the University continues to deny CUAllies official recognition. It was during my time at Catholic, deploying my organizing skills, causing what John Lewis called “good trouble”, that I experienced what it is like to have one’s confidence and pride belittled and trampled.
I had frequent meetings with a school administrator who disagreed with recognizing CUAllies. For months, we had a productive dialogue about how to otherwise support LGBTQ+ students on campus. What would ultimately be our last meeting was an experience I’ll never forget. After questioning why I cared so much about “gay things” and my “gay identity”, he suggested I purchase a book written by an “ex-gay” who was a so-called “conversion therapy” success story. I was absolutely gutted. He betrayed my trust, mutual respect, and implied I needed to be changed, that I was wrong.
In the proceeding months, I struggled with suicidal ideation and fear of the next time I would run into him on campus.
I am blessed and proud to be here today, accepting this award, just down the street from Catholic, because, although that administrator is not in this room, or at least I haven’t seen him, I want people like him to know that hate and intolerance will not derail us. Our community will not be intimidated.
In fact, we are obtaining political and societal power. We won’t beg for our rights, for permission to exist on a campus, in a neighborhood, or in a workplace. We will take power and enact the change we seek.
I graduated from Catholic in May 2014 and won a Democratic primary one month later. I obtained power. I sponsored a bill, my colleagues voted for it, and our governor signed it into a law—banning conversion therapy in our state once and for all. No young person in my state will face the abuse of being told they are wrong; that they need to change.
During my time as Speaker of the House, we’ve expanded access to PrEP and banned insurers from discriminating against those on PrEP. We restored benefits to military veterans who were discharged under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. We now require that in Maine’s correctional facilities a person’s consistently held gender identity be respected and that services are provided as such. We made sure a child over the age of 14 can make the case before the courts concerning a name change. Since a name is fundamental to a person’s identity, is deeply personal and highly visible, it is essential for courts to hear from the minor and not just parents or guardians. We simplified the process for changing one’s gender on a birth certification and added a “X” gender marker. And we defeated a bill to ban trans girls from sports and another bill to ban trans women from accessing services at women’s homeless shelters.
Mayor Parker, you said it so well yesterday morning. When we are in the room, change happens. When we obtain power, we score victories for justice and equality. I am honored to be in a room of LGBTQ leaders who have obtained power, who are changing their cities, states, and countries. As the saying goes, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. And by God, we are not waiting anymore!
Thank you so much!