In honor of Pride Month, Bath’s Patten Free Library invites Maine residents for a presentation about Maine’s LGBTQ+ community and their fight for civil rights.

Guest speaker Susie Bock, coordinator of special collections and director of the Sampson Center at the University of Southern Maine, will speak on the topic this Friday.

“We have a mission to educate and empower the community to support civil rights and diversity in Maine,” said Bock.

Bock’s presentation is part of the Patten Free Library “History Room Live” series, providing access to published original archive materials and insight into Maine’s history. Past presentations have included material about Maine ships, black history, architecture, poetry and more.

Patten Free Library Archivist and Special Collections Librarian Mary Kate Kwasnick said she is thrilled to have Bock as a guest speaker.

“LGBTQ+ communities aren’t often very visible in archives and special collections. People weren’t documenting that part of their lives due to discrimination,” said Kwasnick.


Equality Community Center Manager Chris O’Connor said he is grateful for the work that Bock has done over the past decades.

“For me growing up as a kid, I never heard anything in my school curriculum or found anything in bookstores or libraries,” O’Connor said. “There was nothing about LGBTQ+,” said O’Connor. “Without places like the Samson Center, our history could be erased, as generations change, and we lose folks that were here for the early parts of the movement.”

Bock said she will tell the story of the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement from the 1970s-2010s using t-shirts, buttons, posters, photographs, documents and other artifacts from the University of Southern Maine’s LGBTQ+ collection.

USM’s collection is “the largest, most comprehensive library of primary materials regarding the queer communities in Maine,” according to a press release.

Some articles Bock will present are from The Maine Gay Task Force, a paper that started at the University of Maine at Orono. This group created The Maine Gay Symposium, a networking event for the queer community over 30 years ago, said Bock.

In her presentation, Bock will also share tragic events that propelled the LGBTQ+ movement forward.


Bock said a huge push in the movement came in 1984 when Bangor resident Charlie Howard was killed after he was thrown from a bridge by local teenagers. This caused many Mainers to fight for state-wide legislation to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation immediately after, said Bock.

Howard’s murder outraged many, including author Stephen King, who based a character off of Howard in his famous novel “It.” King’s retelling of the murder exposed it as what he called, “pure evil” and a hate crime, according to the Bangor Daily News.

O’Connor said he has a small collection at the Samson Center, documenting when he was the target of a hate crime in 1999 while working at USM. He said someone graffitied the halls and his apartment door with vicious anti-LGBTQ remarks.

After the murder of University of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard, O’Conner said this incident at USM produced an outpouring of support from the university and a lot of media coverage. “Students launched a campaign and made silver ribbons,” said O’Connor.

Bock said all the conferences and newspapers dedicated to the queer population in Maine built a strong community.

“Pride and political action made this community visible to the outside,” said Bock.


She said it is a common assumption by out-of-staters that the Maine queer community doesn’t go beyond Portland.

Having moved here from Colorado in the 1990s, Bock said she was one of those assuming people, but soon learned she was wrong.

“Maine is not just a white protestant state,” she said.

Known as a very conservative area, it may surprise Mainers that the largest portion of USM’s LGBTQ+ archives come from a social group in Caribou, said Bock. The group Northern Lambda Nord was established in 1980 and created a hotline for people to call with questions about the queer community, just before the AIDS epidemic hit in 1981.

With the help of state funding, the group then transformed that hotline into an official AIDS crisis hotline, said Bock.

O’Connor said Bock’s presentation is important because it prioritizes content that needs to exist.

“I know a lot of the history, but no matter how much we know it’s important to keep it fresh. It’s what our work is rooted in,” said O’Connor.

The LGBTQ+ Civil Rights presentation will be held at the Community Room at the Patten Free Library in person and via Zoom on June 24 at 3 p.m.

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