REM Award Honorees (2019) — Sharon Saunders (PFLAG Waterville)

When people heard that Sharon Saunders was receiving the award this year, the responses included “It’s about time!” and “If it weren’t for Sharon, PFLAG Waterville wouldn’t exist.”

Along with Charlie Kelly and Faye Nicholson, Sharon was one of the founding members of the chapter, which began meeting in 2009. For many years, PFLAG National allowed the chapter to operate as PFLAG Waterville, even though it wasn’t an official chapter with nonprofit status. Sharon’s initiative, attention to detail, and perseverance in getting the necessary paperwork completed and filed enabled the chapter to become official in 2015. This accomplishment also resulted in PFLAG Waterville transitioning from a REM Initiative to a REM Partner.

Sharon accepted Charlie Kelly’s invitation to the first meeting because she wanted to “support people who have gotten a raw deal through no fault of their own.” Despite society as a whole becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) community, there is still a need for PFLAG — there are still individuals, parents, and friends in need of support and resources which PFLAG Waterville can provide.

When PFLAG Waterville first started, meetings were held at REM. This provided a neutral meeting space, and Faye Nicholson and Jackie Dalton provided much-needed organizational support. However, Sharon thinks it was a good move when PFLAG Waterville eventually relocated to Pleasant Street United Methodist Church. Because many members of the LGBTQ+ community have been hurt by various religious communities, Sharon thinks it is important to convey that there are welcoming churches. Pleasant Street UMC went through a multi-year discerning process that resulted in its status as a welcoming/reconciling community — proclaimed by the “All Are Welcome Here” banner and demonstrated by the pastor’s and various members’ involvement in LGBTQ+ events and presentations.

Sharon served the chapter for many years as secretary, contributed a short time as an “unofficial” interim president, and is currently the treasurer. She continues to help organize events, ranging from a presentation by Wayne Maines, father of the subject of Becoming Nicole, to the screening of the documentary Gender Revolution.

Sharon’s commitment to supporting the LGBTQ+ community was evidenced by being a member of the PSUMC Reconciling Ministries Team and being the chair for many years. As church librarian, she continues to expand the number of books focusing on LGBTQ+ issues and keeps the church membership updated as new books arrive.

Sharon Saunders is honored to be this year’s REM Award Honoree as she continues to be a visible and active ally of the LGBTQ+ community.

For more information about PFLAG Waterville, visit its website.

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