Maine GayNet - Gay pride events foster optimism

Bangor, Maine

Monday, July 14, 1997

Gay pride events foster optimism

BANGOR - For gays and lesbians, there was the relative anonymity of the chem-free dance in the church basement or, just up the street, a spirited block party that filled the air of a Center Street neighborhood with throbbing dance music.

Both events attracted their share of revelers Saturday evening as Bangor's gay pride crowd continued its celebration from an extravagant parade down Main Street and an afternoon of live music and festivities entertaining hundreds who came and went as the hot sun beat down on Paul Bunyan Park.

Spirits were high Saturday morning as the parade came together on Exchange Street. There were a handful of female impersonators, a couple of motorcycle riders from the Dykes on Bikes organization, and a strong theme of rainbow colors, with balloons and streamers, fo r the hundred or so paraders to rally around.

Downtown Bangor was characteristically sleepy at noontime as the train of gay pride supporters got rolling. Some drivers stopped along Main Street, blowing their horns, whooping and hollering in unison with the paraders, and giving them the thumbs up.

''You go, girl,'' one woman, standing on the sidewalk in West Market Square, bellowed at a sports car carrying one of the female impersonators.

Just as gay pride festivities occur annually, coming on the heels of the anniversary of Charlie Howard's death, so, too, gathers the contingent of protesters from the Berean Bible Baptist Church. Holding signs citing biblical passages and gripping their worn Bibles, this year's group was led by pastor Arthur Dean, whose preaching was drowned out by the cavalcade of noise surrounding the par ade.

''Lots of noise now,'' said parade organizer Kevin Gilgan, slowing the parade temporarily before it reached the protesters who, except for Dean, stood stone-faced on the edge of the sidewalk in front of the Opera House.

''I think it was probably the biggest parade we've ever had,'' an exhausted Gilgan later said, standing by one of the many tables set up in Paul Bunyan Park, this one for food and refreshments.

One of the more popular tables featured a range of gay and lesbian cards, books and magazines from a bookstore in Portland.

''It's really a chance to see what the rest of the community is doing,'' said Jim Neal, co-owner of Drop Me a Line, the alternative Portland gift store. ''I see a real difference in Bangor'' over the years.

Bangor's annual gay pride parade and celebration is now 5 years old. Many of the participants were jubilant about this year's turnout, taking it as testimony to the health and vitality of the local gay and lesbian community.

On Friday night, a local bar held a tribute to Madonna that attracted many of the parade participants, and a gay rights service was held Sunday at the Unitarian-Universalist Church, followed by a memorial march for Charlie Howard, a gay man thrown into the Kenduskeag Stream and drowned in 1984.

''If we don't stand up, we're going to get walked all over,'' said Richard Couch, who traveled from Augusta to speak to the crowd at Paul Bunyan Park.

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