More than 50 people gathered to remember Charlie Howard — a gay man killed in Bangor almost 40 years ago — on Wednesday, pleading with others to not forget the lessons of that tragic event.
On July 7, 1984, Howard, 23, a Portsmouth-native living in Bangor, was walking with his friend Roy Ogden when they were confronted and harassed by three teens yelling homophobic slurs. The young men eventually threw Howard into the Kenduskeag Stream — even as he told the attackers he could not swim — and his body was recovered shortly after midnight.
The event made national headlines and has continued to receive new attention as one of the most infamous anti-LGBTQ killings in American history. Many compare it to the later killings of Matthew Shepard and Brandon Teena in the 1990s, events that helped spur the passage of hate crime legislation.
A large group of people, some wearing pride clothing and flags, met in West Market Square in Bangor and took a short walk to Howard’s memorial at Kenduskeag Stream for the remembrance ceremony — organized by Health Equity Alliance.
The death of Howard, and other people killed because of their sexuality or gender identity, showed the importance of LGBTQ pride, said Health Equity Alliance Program Coordinator Orion Tucker, 29, of Winterport.
“If his life had not been taken by violent ignorance, he would have been 60 years old this year,” Tucker said. “There’s so much out there in life that could have been.”
He praised Howard for being open about his sexuality in a time when doing so was difficult and could invite open violence. While the plight of LGBTQ people has changed for the better in the United States and Bangor since the 1980s, Tucker noted that anti-LGBTQ violence and other forms of discrimination still occurs. There was a long way to go, he said.
“We must confront the bigots and hatred and show them that love conquers all,” Tucker said.
Tucker passed out white roses that participants then threw them into the Kenduskeag Stream in honor of Howard.
David Weeda, of Bucksport, who was living in Kansas City, Missouri, at the time of Howard’s death, said it propelled him to organize for LGBTQ rights.
“Thank you Charlie — you touched my life when you died,” Weeda said. “I have carried you in my heart.”
However, during the moment of silence, a man who appeared to be in confrontation with another man nearby yelled racial and antisemitic slurs, doing a Nazi salute within view of the audience.
Many in the crowd were audibly shaken — Tucker and others said that it showed the importance of such an event. While discrimination has decreased in the Bangor area since Howard’s death, it has not been eradicated, Tucker said.
“To be able to have visibility and see the community come together, it makes a huge difference.” Tucker said. “We know there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”