Emerson Merrill-Maguire (left), 9, and Owen Connor-Self, 9, draw a rainbow with chalk on the sidewalk during the 2015 annual Bangor Pride Festival through downtown Bangor. Credit: Ashley L. Conti

A co-founder of the Bangor Gay Pride Parade and Festival and former Orono lawmaker died this week of Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS.

Jim Martin, 52, of Stillwater was studying social work at the University of Maine when he and two other students organized the Bangor’s first gay pride parade in 1992 as a class project on advocacy. Between 150 and 200 people, including protesters, who held up signs with Bible quotes hand printed on them, attended that first year.

Credit: Jim Martin | Scott Wilkerson

Martin, who served in the Maine Legislature for one term from 2008 to 2010, organized the event for a decade before turning it over to others. It languished for a few years. The Bridge Alliance has helped to coordinate the event since 2007.

“I think the direction it’s going is that it’s part of the community now,” Martin said in June 2015 of the event’s evolution. “It’s not just for a segment of the community. That and seeing more families like ours is what’s really nice about it.”

Martin, who was diagnosed with ALS more than two years ago, died Monday evening at his home, his husband, Scott Wilkerson, 52, announced Tuesday on Facebook.

Greg Bridges-Music, president of the Bridge Alliance on Thursday posted a tribute to Martin on Facebook.

“Thank you, Jim, for beginning the first Bangor Pride march in the ‘90s,” Bridges-Music said. “Thank you, Jim, for standing on the Pride stage years later as an out state legislator, when legislated equality was still very new and marriage not yet accessible to us. Young LGBTQ kids could see that they could make a difference as well by your example. Thank you for doing so much for our community in many ways.”

This year’s parade and festival will be held June 23.

ALS is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal column. It progressively destroys the brain’s ability to initiate and control voluntary muscle activity, including the ability to walk, hold an object, speak, swallow and breathe.

Wilkerson said Wednesday in an email that the last few years had been difficult as the illness progressed.

“It was tough for all of us,” he said. “Jim was always saying sorry that he was putting us through this. I’d do it all over again. He’s my guy.

“During his last hospital stay, when options became few, he asked if he could come home,” Wilkerson continued. “Without hesitation, we brought him home where he belongs.”

Martin and Wilkerson met in December 1996 at Benjamin’s, a bar on Franklin Street in Bangor.

“I remember being enamored,” Wilkerson said of their first meeting at the age of 30. “His eyes. He projected a mature vibe. I really couldn’t believe it. We talked for hours until the bar kicked us out.”

The couple spent more than two decades together. They were married in 2013 after Maine voters approved a same-sex marriage referendum in the 2012 November election.

Since announcing Martin’s death, more than 100 people have posted memories of the man on Facebook.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap of Old Town served in the Legislature with Martin. Dunlap called Martin “a strong legislator who listened to people.”

“He appreciated the citizen who stood up to be heard, and was incredibly respectful of that,” Dunlap said Thursday in an email. “As a legislator, he was humble in that he kept his position in perspective and never took himself too seriously, but did understand the power of the institution to actually help people.

“He was collegial and passionate, forthright and honest, and true guardian of the public trust,” he said. “Plus, he knew how to laugh, and brought a lot of others along when he did.”

A celebration and memorial for Martin will be held at his home June 9. Details will be announced on social media.

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