For a person who preferred to remain behind the scenes, Joan Marie Stratton had a big effect on raising awareness of LGBTQ+ issues on the South Coast.
“Joanie” was a graduate of Old Rochester Regional High school and served as a quartermaster in the U.S. Coast Guard. For many years, she helped run her father’s boatyard in Mattapoisett.
She fully transitioned in 1997 at a time when there were few support services. In a 2019 interview, she told the South Coast LGBTQ+ Network president Andy Pollock that she regretted having to “live (her) life wrong for the first 47 years” out of fear of discrimination and violence.
The Stonewall riots of 1969 took place two weeks after she graduated from high school and eventually inspired her to a life of activism, she said.
“The one thing I learned about Joanie was her energy to help people in the community,” said Traci Welch, secretary for the South Coast LGBTQ+ Network.
Two years after the 2006 attack on Puzzles, a gay bar in the New Bedford North End, Joanie helped found Southcoast Equality, with a goal to empower LGBT people in the Greater New Bedford area “to participate proudly in their communities.”
She later helped create the Pride Cafe to give people an alternative to the drugs and alcohol that were part of the bar scene. When NB AGLY — A Perfect Place opened its Thursday LGBTQ+ youth drop-in center in downtown New Bedford in 2014, Joan brought Pride Cafe to the same space as a place for LGBTQ+ adults to meet on Monday evenings.
Joan Stratton had lung issues and struggled briefly with COVID-19. She died at St Luke’s Hospital on Feb., 12, 2021, from complications due to the novel coronavirus infection. She was 70 years old.
She was survived by her daughter, Heather Skidmore of Deerfield, New Hampshire; her sister, Janet Zuchitella of Ithaca, New York; and her brother William Stratton of Silver Spring, Maryland.
Joanie obtained a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UMass Dartmouth in 2006 and a master’s degree in social work from Bridgewater State University in 2008. She worked for High Point Treatment Center for five years then opened her own counseling business, specializing in addiction treatment, identity issues and LGB and geriatric concerns.
She was not afraid of anything, remembered Traci Welch, recalling once when a bat flew into the New Bedford Unitarian Church, it was Joanie who calmly helped shush it away while others screamed.
She was open and proud of who she was, and she had the support of her family and hometown of Mattapoisett. She often mentioned fondly the acceptance she found in Mattapoisett after she transitioned.
She was one of the moving forces at South Coast LGBTQ+, Welch said, though she was not as publicly prominent as other members.
“She’d always been behind the scenes. And never wanted to take the light,” she said. “She was about giving that light to others.”
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