The July 10 editorial, “Remember Charlie Howard” mentioned there is still a long way to go. I couldn’t agree more.

I remember those days surrounding the murder of Charlie Howard. I met him once in Bangor, all those years ago. I thought he was a sweet kid and for me, I believed him to be very courageous for being “out” in, of all places, Bangor, Maine. Until his murder, I had felt relatively safe in the more southern city of Lewiston. Then I found out otherwise.

I remember a memorial service for Howard which was held in a chapel at Lewiston’s Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. I remember modest prayers for Charlie and a call for mercy and understanding. There were quite a few gay men and lesbians there, all stunned and shocked by this murder. Truly, it struck at the core of every member of the gay and lesbian community in Maine. We could all die here. Just because of who we are.

So after that modest memorial at the Basilica, a small troupe of us gathered outside and began to march our way to the Longley Bridge. It was one of the most frightening experiences of my life.

By the time we had walked our way to Main Street, we discovered the most angry mob of people lining the sidewalks, two and three people deep in places, all the way down to the bridge. It is all I can see now — these angry, shouting people, raising their fists, shaking signs, calling us names, telling us we’re next. So close to my face, those angry people. Hating everything about us. Screaming the most horrible things.

I was terrified. We all were. I remember I grabbed my friend’s hand and squeezed my eyes shut. I said “tell me when it’s over” and I kept on walking. And all the while the angry mob kept screaming at us, spewing their hate in our faces.

We all got to the bridge and paused for a moment as a wreath was dropped into the Androscoggin River. I thought of Charlie and the fear he would have felt, as those young men were attacking him. The fear I had experienced couldn’t compare. I remember crying.

As we walked back up Main Street to gather at a safe location so we could find our way home safely, I seem to remember the angry mob was quieter. Many had left but those who remained just stood there watching us.

Twenty-five years later, things have changed in Maine and if nothing else, it’s a safer place to live for Maine’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered citizens. But I wonder by how much sometimes.

Earlier this year, when I was still living in Lewiston, my partner and I were walking our dogs down the street when a young man shouted from his window a long line of disgusting slurs at us. And for what reason?

Just because we’re gay. That small incident upset me a great deal. I wondered why after 25 years Charlie Howard still comes to my mind.

I believe we should always remember Charlie Howard and not only because of what happened to him. But because of what could happen again.

If we don’t remember.

Joseph V. Keelan, a Lewiston native, now lives in West Gardiner. 


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