BANGOR, Maine — The Bangor Pride Festival this week was full of celebration as Maine’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community joined their allies in the upbeat event, made even more special by the recent downfall of the Defense of Marriage Act on Wednesday.
In addition, Friday was the 44th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which launched the gay rights movement, Greg Music, vice president of the Bridge Alliance and a co-coordinator of this year’s expanded Bangor Pride event, said Saturday after the Bangor Pride Parade.
Music described what the Supreme Court’s recent decisions regarding DOMA and Proposition 8 have meant to him and others in the LGBT community.
“On a federal level we’re recognized.” he said. “ … We have been people who have been expected to give and be responsible, to pay taxes, to do all the right things, but who hadn’t been given the same privileges or been included.
“We have always been on the outside. We have always been other and now we are fully part of our country which is a big thing for us,” he said.
“The theme of this year’s pride festival is ‘Keep up the Momentum’ because we have come a long way, baby, but we still have a long, long way to go,” Music said as he kicked off the afternoon-long festival featuring speakers, live music, dancing and informational booths in West Market Square.
Bangor Mayor Nelson Durgin was among those who spoke during the festival.
“This was a remarkable year,” Durgin said. “Since last year’s festival, Maine citizens voted to end the discrimination in marriage in Maine. And in January 2013, Bangor City Hall opened on a cold Saturday morning so that same-sex couples could finally have the opportunity to legalize their relationships.
“One of the first of those was a young man who grew up with my children who now lives in Los Angeles, California, but he had such a great childhood in Maine that he really wanted to be here to celebrate,” said Durgin, who wore a rainbow themed necktie to the event. He was joined on the stage by Councilors Joseph Baldacci and Charles Longo.
Also much on the minds of Bangor Pride participants was Charlie Howard, 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. A memorial to his death was dedicated in 2009.
“I think it’s important to remember what that has meant to Bangor,” Durgin said.
“Twenty-nine years ago, a tragic murder happened a few hundred feet from where we’re standing. That tragic event had such an impact on our community that shock turned into action. Slowly but steadily the residents of Bangor have strived to become open to everyone — regardless of sexual orientation.
“A memorial remembering Charlie Howard was erected several years ago and it’s inscription, I think, provides something we all should live by: “May we the citizens of Bangor continue to change the world around us until hatred becomes compassion and fear becomes understanding.”
For Music, the solidarity he saw this week was among Bangor Pride’s high points.
“We had families with young children. We had high school and college kids and we had seniors together,” he said. “We had gay, transgender and straight together. And we had diversity. We had our uniqueness but we were also community. And we are Bangor.”
Despite the progress they’ve seen, the LGBT community still have its battles to fight, Music said.
“It’s still OK to say, ‘That’s so gay.’ It’s still OK to call kids names in the hallways. That’s not changed. Our LGBT seniors — as they go into nursing homes — can they be out? Can they say that they’re gay? Can they live with their partners? Do they have to go back in the closet?
“And transgender rights. People think that everybody has equal rights now but transgender people still need protection and we need to get that through,” he said. “We’re blessed to be in the city but we also need to go out and support LGBT folks out in the rural areas. Those are things that really matter to us.”
The festival continues this evening, with a youth LGBT mixer set for 4 to 6 p.m. at the Union Street Brick Church. Starting at 8 p.m., a 21-plus after party is set for Tantrum nightclub on Broad Street.
The festival ends Sunday with Pride Spirituality, set for 10 a.m. at churches throughout the Bangor area including the Unitarian Universalist Church, Hammond Street Congregational Church in Bangor, the Hampden Congregational Church, and the Church of Universal Fellowship in Orono. At the Bangor YMCA, a morning Organic Dance is set for 10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.
For information about all Bangor Pride events, visit their Facebook page.