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Archive features oral histories from LGBTQ+ elders on the NH Seacoast

A Pride flag flies over the Franklin Pride TN festival Saturday, June 3, 2023, in Franklin, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)
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A Pride flag flies over the Franklin Pride TN festival Saturday, June 3, 2023, in Franklin, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

A group of local activists and academics are working to preserve LGBTQ+ history in the Seacoast area. As part of that effort, a new historical audio and video archive is now available to the public at the Portsmouth Public Library. The archive features oral histories with LGBTQ+ elders who spent time on the Seacoast, and it also includes home videos of a 1990s protest against anti-gay merchandise at a Hampton shop and recordings from a local lesbian chorus.

Tom Kaufhold is one of the organizers and is the founder of the Seacoast New Hampshire LGBT History Project. He says he hopes more people donate videos and audio for the archive.

“I think some people don't realize that some of the recent history was really history-making,” Kaufhold said. “At the time when you're participating in something, you don't necessarily feel that you're making history. You're just living your life.”

Holly Cashman, a professor of Spanish and Women’s & Gender Studies at the University of New Hampshire, led the oral history project that is part of the archive. She says she hopes more older LGBTQ+ people will come forward to share oral histories about their experience in the Seacoast community.

“There has been an effort growing to preserve LGBTQ+ history in recent years,” Cashman said. “There's a power and a certain pride to be gained from knowing what was happening in your own community.”

NHPR’s Morning Edition host Rick Ganley spoke with Kaufhold and Cashman about the project. Below is a transcript of their conversation.


Transcript

Tom, you founded this local history project to preserve gay history in the seacoast area. How has that project evolved?

Tom Kaufhold: It's been going very well. It started in 2015, and we started just collecting physical artifacts – papers and posters and t-shirts and that kind of thing. And when we originally started, we really wanted to do some oral histories, too. But when a few of us went to a class, we realized it was going to be too much work for the committee that we had. And then Holly joined us.

Holly, you conducted oral histories with New Hampshire residents, which are part of this archive. What was it like collecting those stories?

Holly Cashman: It is always amazing that people are willing to give of their time to participate in the project. Some people only had lived in New Hampshire for a few years. Some people have been lifelong residents. And we were starting out focused on the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots. So I was looking for people who were community elders who had been around prior to that in the '50s and '60s, and had experiences to share about how the community has changed over the years and what their experiences were. And the stories that people share are funny, heartbreaking, heartwarming, life affirming. It's been amazing to be involved in the project.

I want to play a clip from an interview that you did with Richard, a man who ran a gay bar in Portsmouth in the 1970s.

Holly Cashman: Why do you think in the LGBTQ community bars were so important?

Richard: It was validation that you exist, that you have value. That you're not some piece of dirt that other people look down on. Where you could be proud of who you were and not have to hide or make believe you're somebody else, or make believe you have a girlfriend and all of that. And that was a very important thing at that time.

Obviously we hear so much about LGBTQ+ history in New York, in LA and San Francisco, but you don't hear about it in rural states very much, do you?

Holly Cashman: There has been an effort growing to preserve LGBTQ+ history in recent years. There's a power and a certain pride to be gained from knowing what was happening in your own community. I know that being involved in this project, and what I've learned, has changed my life and hopefully the experience of others – just walking down the street and knowing there was a women's bar in that building in the 1980s, or that was the feminist health center where people would get all sorts of services that they weren't able to get other places, knowing where the AIDS Response Seacoast met. Those kinds of things bring to life the past history of our queer community that hasn't necessarily been recorded.

And what do you hope that people get out of this archive, Tom?

Tom Kaufhold: There are a couple of things. One is I hope that they bring more stuff. I think some people don't realize that some of the recent history was really history-making. At the time when you're participating in something, you don't necessarily feel that you're making history. You're just living your life. So I'm hoping that comes out of it.

One thing that came to mind when Holly was speaking was, I'm going to be speaking at Great Bay Community College, and a professor really wanted somebody to come and speak about people throughout history. She's finding that a lot of the young LGBTQ people don't know a lot of elders, or just even other people that existed here in the Seacoast or even nationally. So I'm hoping this will help some of those younger folks realize we're out there, we're really everywhere. And I hope that this will help them see that they're not alone and that there's people throughout history working on their equal rights.

Jackie Harris is the Morning Edition Producer at NHPR. She first joined NHPR in 2021 as the Morning Edition Fellow.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
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