BANGOR, Maine — Gray, cloudy skies and intermittent rain failed to deter approximately 75 people from gathering near the State Street bridge Saturday morning to rededicate the Charlie Howard Memorial in the wake of recent vandalism.
Howard was a 23-year-old, openly gay man who was thrown to his death off State Street bridge by three teens after they accosted him in July 1984. The memorial to his death was dedicated in 2009.
Approximately two weeks ago, someone vandalized the memorial by spraying vulgar graffiti in white paint on it.
“At first I couldn’t even read what it said,” said Margaret “Miki” Macdonald of Bangor, who lives just up the street from the memorial. “I wasn’t sure if it was writing or just some random lines. Then when I saw what it said, I said, ‘God, that’s pathetic. How ridiculous for someone to do this.’ Just seeing that was disgusting.”
The memorial is the centerpiece of a small community flower garden alongside the bridge over Kenduskeag Stream featuring tulips, hollyhocks, magnolia bushes, lilacs, cosmos and crabapple trees.
Macdonald, who along with friend Myer Taksel, has regularly weeded, maintained and cared for the garden the last couple years, said if the intent of the vandal was to intimidate or scare people, it was a failed attempt.
“Actually, having something so offensive like that happen to the memorial made all these people regroup, and I think it’s rekindled our intention to encourage tolerance in our community,” she said. “So in a way, it’s a good thing.”
A dozen community members representing various churches and organizations were on hand to speak at the hourlong 10 a.m. ceremony. They included Dignity for All campaign coordinator Tom Grogan; the Rev. Mark Doty of Hammond Street Congregational Church; Maine Civil Liberties Union executive director Shenna Bellows; Kay Wilkins from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network; Beth Allan, Bangor field organizer for Equality Maine; Cameron Grover of the Bangor High School Civil Rights Team; Bridge Alliance board member Mark Bridges; the Rev. Elaine Hewes from the Maine Council of Churches; Linda Koehler, Women With Wings director; and the Rev. Becky Gunn of the Unitarian Universalist Society in Bangor.
Doty recalled the Nazi Holocaust in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s and how gays were made to wear large, pink triangles and forced to work under deadly conditions most didn’t survive.
Others recalled more personal experiences.
“I was a 16-year-old when Charlie Howard was killed and that pushed me so far back in the closet it wasn’t funny,” said Bridges. “I struggled with alcoholism for years after that.”
Now openly gay, Bridges honored Macdonald and Taksel for their efforts in cleaning up the memorial and tending the garden while also telling the crowd gathered that “intolerance has no place in our community.”
Engraved on the stone near the spot where Howard died are the words: “May we, the citizens of Bangor, continue to change the world around us until hatred becomes peacemaking and ignorance becomes understanding.”
The event was organized by the Power in Community Alliances’ Dignity for All Campaign.