July 7 was the 36th anniversary of Charlie Howard’s murder. We should never forget and here’s why: He was murdered for being gay.

Charlie Howard, 23, was from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and moved to the Bangor area just months prior to his murder. During this time period, being openly gay in Maine wasn’t common. He was a mild-mannered young man who kept to himself, but was harassed repeatedly because of his feminine qualities.

Three teenage boys had been drinking beer with two female friends on that hot day in July. That night, they took the car of one of the boys’ parents and drove around Bangor from party to party.

Later that evening, they drove downtown and spotted Howard and Roy Ogden, 20, walking arm in arm. The teens recognized them as a pair of local gay men.

The boys stopped the car, got out, and began to verbally and physically assault Howard. Ogden got away but Howard tripped and fell to the ground near the railing of a bridge. The boys removed Howard’s hands from the railing and raised him above their heads. During this Howard cried out in panic, saying he could not swim. His plea only infuriated them and, with a mighty heave, they tossed him into the stream. The boys then ran back to their car. They thought it was a good achievement at the time. Afterwards they bragged to their friends. However, their gloating was short-lived. Howard ended up dying from his injuries.

The teenagers were taken into custody, then charged with murder. After their arraignment, Howard’s killers were released into their parents’ custody and later charged as juveniles. They were released on bail because they were “not a threat to the community,” and had not intended to kill Howard. They were convicted of manslaughter and given indeterminate sentences at the Maine Youth Center in South Portland. Two of them served 22 months, and the other was released after 14 months.

On Monday evening, July 9, 1984, the Unitarian Universalist church in Bangor had a memorial service. Over 200 attendees celebrated Charlie Howard’s life and voiced outrage over his vicious murder. They then marched over the bridge where Howard had been murdered and dropped flowers into the stream below. The procession terminated in a candlelight vigil at the Bangor police station. All along the line of the march, amid the marchers’ grief and rage, hecklers shouted derogatory remarks at them. A few days later another memorial service in Portland took place, followed by a protest march down Congress Street.

This shows that Charles Howard’s brutal and senseless murder by three teenagers was a wake-up call to a lot of people and was a catalyst for the gay rights movement here in Maine. When Charlie Howard was murdered for being gay, much of the Bangor community desperately tried to sweep his murder under the rug. He was blamed for his own murder, because he did not hide his homosexuality and did not fit into the city of Bangor self- image.

One of the newspaper articles written at the time states “homosexuality is the motive”  behind this murder; but in reality it should have said homophobia was the motive. In another article it implied that the three boys were the victims in this whole situation, because this act of violence was going to ruin their futures. Howard was the true victim, and his family and friends will never know what he would have accomplished in life.

Charlie Howard’s murder is remarkable only by virtue of it being unremarkable. To see that level of hate and violence in Maine is shocking. To see the community rally around and defend the murderers and vilify the man who was murdered was appalling.

— Special to the Press Herald

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