Recently, I visited my son. He lives in Bangor with his wife and two children. Driving through downtown Bangor, I was struck by the numerous LGBTQ+ allied flags flying prominently in front of businesses. This public display of support struck me as a positive step forward. Even as the forces of reaction are trying to turn back the clock in other parts of the country, significant progress has been made in Bangor.

Forty years ago on July 7, a young man named Charlie Howard was holding hands with his good friend, Roy Ogden, in downtown Bangor. Three young men driving by in a car stopped. They stalked, caught, and threw Mr. Howard off the bridge into the water to his death.

A tiny religious congregation of which I was a part, The Unitarian Church of Bangor, responded directly to this tragedy. The church hosted a memorial service for Mr. Howard in which grief and outrage were expressed in words, music and dance.

The congregation provided a meeting space for numerous community discussions about what had happened, why it had happened, and what might be done moving forward. As a result, the Bangor Area Gay Lesbian Straight Coalition (BAGLSC) came into being. Leaders emerged. Events were planned, and the Unitarian Church hosted them.

That church’s office funded the printing of a regular BAGLSC newsletter. The congregation concluded that society’s fear and hatred gave permission to the three young men to act as they had. Further, the congregation committed itself to confronting this prejudice.

This open, assertive response contrasted sharply with the lack of response from others. Many were afraid. Others, sympathetic in private, said nothing in public. This reality isolated the Unitarian Church. It became known as “the gay church” in Bangor.


Nevertheless, this tiny Unitarian congregation embraced the Biblical assertions that all are created in the image of God, and the diverse Creation is good. It asserted too that the American project was still an unfulfilled dream of equality and justice for all.

The Unitarian Church’s visible support of and advocacy for equality amounted to a small act in history. In time, others joined this cause, and change occurred. Civil rights laws were passed. Same-sex couples were allowed to marry. We were glad to have played a small role in speaking out.

Seeing those flags a few weeks ago, I am reminded that in the 40 years that have passed we have made significant gains in creating a more equal society. Nevertheless, we must remember that forces of reaction would take these gains away.

These flags are not merely images of progress. They are visible reminders to be steadfast agents of equality in every generation.

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