ORONO, ME – An ostrich sculpture was stolen from outside the Pride Zoo in Orono back in August 2021.
The sculpture represented LGBTQA+ pride for Orono and the greater Bangor area during the 2021 Bangor Pride Month celebration. Constructed by Orono High School teachers Cami Carter and Jon Hawley, the community adored the statue.
“We just want the Ostrich back. No questions asked. No charges. Just put it back on any street corner, we’ll come get it and put it back where it should be,” Carter said in a statement to Q106.5, a local radio station, in August 2021.
The Orono Police Department is still looking into who may have committed the theft and who may know something about it. As of recently, it is believed that the theft may simply be a juvenile prank or an act of drunken idiocy rather than an act of malice towards the LGBTQA+ community. Still, nothing has become of the stolen bird, but police and the community remain optimistic.
The ostrich was one of several animals included in the zoo, along with a unicorn, zebra, lion, panda, hippo, tortoise, cat, buffalo, giraffe and beaver. All pride flag-themed, the animals, and story doors were scattered all around town as a scavenger hunt that the community might all be able to participate in that summer.
The zoo, a product of the 2021 Orono Pride Festival, was quite new for the area regarding LGBTQA+ representation. The festival, which was just a year old as of the time the sculpture was stolen, has become a very important part of the community of queer teens and adults in the area since. At its core, the event aims at advocacy, education, and representation to foster safety in schools, workplaces, and recreational endeavors.
When this crime occurred in 2021, hate crimes against queer Mainers had skyrocketed compared to previous years. As of 2021, 24 crimes that could be directly linked to homophobia were reported by Maine police, according to statistics from the FBI. This is consistent with a nationwide spike in intolerance.
That being said, this is not an issue unique to the state. Such crimes have been trending down in the past two years, and the Orono and Bangor areas are still considered a safe place for the queer community.
Unbeknownst to most, Maine has a rich history regarding queer representation and culture during a time when such lifestyles conflicted against the grain of society and the law. Statistics from 2020 report that there were anywhere between 45,000 minimum and 61,000 maximum LGBT-identifying adults statewide. And as of this year, it has been shown that Maine, California, and D.C. are the three safest states and federal districts for queer Americans.
Since 1984, Maine has profited from the MLGPA (Maine Lesbian, Gay, Political Alliance), the predecessor of Equality Maine. However, this came in response to the tragic 1984 murder of 23-year-old Charles Howard, who was thrown over the State Street Bridge into the Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor by three teenagers for his sexuality.
Ever since the Bangor and Orono area has taken gay pride and the protection of gay citizens much more seriously than other areas at the time. The MLGPA News had its own newsletter which has become a hallmark of pride for the state’s history. Copies of this newsletter can still be found on the web for enthusiasts interested in learning more about queer pride during the late 90’s and 2000’s.
Besides the Orono Pride Festival, there are several advocacy groups for the LGBTQA+ in Maine that are also in need of support. This includes OUT Maine, which operates out of Rockland, Glsen, Inc., which has locations in Ellsworth and Portland, Parents Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays Inc., which is located in Brunswick, Sexual Minorities Uganda USA Incorporated in Scarborough and flag Portland.
If you believe you know something regarding the theft, you are asked to contact the Orono Police Department with any information you might have.