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Arts and Culture

'Queers of Greater Portland' Project Brought Maine's LGBTQ Community Together During The Pandemic

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Nathan MacDonald
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Kyle Warnock poses for a photograph.

Many of us rediscovered old hobbies, or embraced new ones during the pandemic. Kyle Warnock of Portland picked up the camera that had been in his closet for ten years to try his hand at portrait photography. But what started out as a moment of creative curiosity has turned into an online community for more than 2,000 Mainers.

"I usually just look for what looks good, usually something solid. And not to, uh, wiry," Kyle says.

After an early evening sunshower in South Portland, Warnock steps out of his car for the first photo shoot of the day.

"You see those sticks over there sort of jut out in different directions and it's a lot of gaps," Kyle says.

On this day, Kyle’s taking photos of Ian, who agreed to have their picture taken at their home. Kyle likes to do his photoshoots in places where his subjects will be comfortable.

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Kyle Warnock
Ian poses for a photograph for the "Queers of Greater Portland" project.

"We schedule a time to meet, usually based on their location, because I like to do shoots back to back and then I come and visit them and I photograph them while chatting with them for 20 to 30 minutes," Kyle says.

"If you were to envision yourself on either step, which do you think would be a better match for who you are?" Kyle asks Ian.

"Honestly, the front step would be probably more aesthetically correct," Ian responds.

Ian says there are a few reasons why they wanted to be photographed for Kyle’s project, “Queers of Greater Portland,” an Instagram page that’s become a hub for Maine’s LGBTQ+ community.

"One, because I saw the work that was already being done and I really, really liked it. Also because I do have that aversion to like, photographs of myself and kind of that thing. And so this was also me kind of pushing myself out of my comfort zone a little bit to do more of that," Ian says.

Kyle started shooting portraits in May of 2020, when the lockdown was just beginning. Like many, he suddenly had extra time on his hands.

"I had a camera lying in my closet for 10 years and I wanted to use it. And I never got the chance to because I was a full time student and I worked three different jobs on top of that," Kyle says.

Kyle knew he wanted to take photos of people. So, he posted on a queer yard sale Facebook group, looking for models.

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Kyle Warnock
Devan poses for a photograph for the "Queers of Greater Portland" project.

"And I was like, hey, who wants to get involved in this and was expecting like five to seven responses from people and then like one and done sort of situation. But then forty people responded," Kyle says.

Since then, Kyle has photographed more than 150 LGBTQ+ Mainers. Including Devan, who appeared on the page a few weeks ago. When Kyle took his portrait, Devan was just getting ready to graduate from high school.

After each photoshoot, Kyle asks his subjects to write their own story in a caption. The paragraphs can range from accounts of people’s experiences with COVID-19, of how they identify, or of picking up a new hobby.

Kyle says that in the past year, people have used the page to meet new friends, get jobs - and even to date.

"I was missing that ability to meet so many people in one day the ability to socialize and get to know people. That really is what drive the project initially was to just meet people still during the sort of lockdown. But over time it became more than that, it became a way to connect everyone," Kyle says.

And Kyle says that he wants to make sure that the virtual community is welcoming for all.

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Kyle Warnock
Eddie poses from a photograph for the "Queers of Greater Portland" project.

"A lot of that includes making spaces for queer, black, indigenous and people of color in the community that may not feel safe in just a queer space, but need a space that's both queer, friendly and also BIPOC friendly," Kyle says.
"When I kind of stumbled upon this, it was just nice to be like, oh, there's there's our community," says Eddie, who took some time out from his afternoon gardening to be photographed at his home in South Portland. "You know, we're still here. We're still here. We're still alive. And it’s just nice to see, see our own."

Today the page has more than 2000 followers, far surpassing Kyle’s expectations. And he says he has big dreams for what Queers of Greater Portland could become. In the meantime, Kyle’s back to his day job interpreting American Sign Language. He still makes time to shoot portraits about once a week.