Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Remembering Charlie Howard: Murdered 26 Years Ago

Remembering Charlie Howard on State Street Bridge, Bangor Daily News Photo

Bangor, ME – Charles O. “Charlie” Howard was drowned to death by three young men at 10 p.m. on July 7, 1984.  His murder was the first full-blown hate crime murder against a gay person to be recognized as such in all of New England, if not the whole United States.  The young men, Shawn Mabry, 16, Jim Baines, 15, and Daniel Ness, 17, ran him down on the State Street Bridge in the heart of downtown Bangor, beat and kicked him brutally, and then heaved him over the the railing into the Kenduskeag Stream below.  Charlie screamed that he didn’t know how to swim.  At 12:10 a.m. the next morning, police rescuers found his drowned body a few hundred feet from the bridge.  A large eel had wrapped itself around his lifeless neck.  An autopsy confirmed that he died of drowning, most probably hastened by a severe attack of asthma, a disease that had plagued Charlie all his life.  He was 23 years old.  The young attackers spent one night in jail, and then were released without bond into the custody of their parents.  LGBT folk and their allies were galvanized by the murder of one of their own, and a fledgling equality organization started in the state in Charlie’s memory.  Mabry, Baines and Ness were tried as juveniles, and sentenced to an “indeterminate term” in Maine Youth facilities in South Portland.  Because of the nature of the law for juveniles, the convicts had to be released by their 21st birthdays.  Mabry and Ness served 21 months apiece.  Baines, the youngest, served two years.  Fourteen years later, in 1998, Matthew Shepard was murdered on a ridge overlooking Laramie, WY, also because he was gay.  Without what had been learned so painfully in the loss of Charlie Howard, there might very well have been no frame of reference for what happened to Matt.  Echoes of Charlie Howard still reverberate in Maine.  Bangor voted a non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT people.  Laramie has not done so yet.  Maine has a state hate crime law on the books, and the government is fairly scrupulous in enforcing it.  Wyoming has never passed such a law protecting its LGBT citizens.  Supporters finally won permission to erect a monument to Charlie near the bridge where he died.  There is no such monument remembering Matt in Laramie.  Matthew Shepard’s story is know around the world.  Charlie Howard’s has remained pretty much a New England story.  But Charlie’s story has changed lives for the better.  And in sheer effect, his supporters have won more respect and practical protection for LGBT people in Maine and New England than Matt’s has yet to achieve in the nation as a whole.  We at the Unfinished Lives Project remember lovely, goofy, maddening, flaming, edgy, and graciously generous Charlie Howard today.  He did not die in vain.  We must work to see to that, for him and for all the sons and daughters of America who died just because of who they were and whom they loved.  Rest well, sweet brother.  We have not forgotten you.

July 7, 2010 Posted by | Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, drowning, gay men, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Maine, Matthew Shepard, Monuments and markers, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, Stomping and Kicking Violence, Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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