Portsmouth Athenaeum Exhibit Showcases LGBT History On The Seacoast

May 6, 2019

An exhibit that opened last Friday at the Portsmouth Athenaeum's Randall Gallery celebrates LGBT history on New Hampshire's Seacoast. The founder of the Seacoast LGBT History Project, Tom Kaufhold, worked for four years to collect mementos, posters, and artwork from the community. Kaufhold spoke with NHPR's Peter Biello about the exhibit, which runs through July 6.

The title of this exhibit is "Seacoast LGBT History: 50 years of Rainbow Reflections." Why focus on 50 years?

Well, 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in New York City, which was really considered the start of the modern day gay rights movement.

For those who may not be familiar, can you explain the significance of the Stonewall riots in the gay community?

Well, dancing between two men was illegal, and I think in some places, too, serving alcohol to gay people was illegal. So in New York City, in order to keep your bar open, you kind of had to pay off the police. And so one night in June in 1969 the police came to the Stonewall Inn to kind of collect what was due and to round up people and arrest them, and the patrons fought back.

When that happened, how did it reverberate in New Hampshire at the time?

I don't think it really did. For us, when we started looking at our history in the Seacoast, it kind of goes back to UNH. They were trying to form a gay student organization on campus in the early '70s. I want to say around '73, and the governor was very much against that, and it ended up going all the way to the Supreme Court in New Hampshire. The gay student organization won and out of that there was a group formed called Seacoast Area Gay Alliance. And out of that a group formed called Seacoast Gay Men, which was just a social group, but that group is still meeting today. It's celebrating [its] 40th anniversary this year, actually.

Is there something in this exhibit that you think might surprise people about Seacoast LGBT history?

We have a great story with Sarah Louise. In the late 80s she transitioned from Jeff to Sarah, and her insurance company was covering that. Then they decided to stop treatment for her right in the middle of her transition. So she sued [and] she got national attention for that. People I think would be surprised to see a transgender person being that out and visible that early in our history.

Why do you think it's important to have an exhibit like this now in 2019?

I think to honor the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, and also I think there have been great strides very recently with the whole same gender marriage decision by the Supreme Court. It really took a lot of us by surprise and it would happen that quickly, and a lot of the attitudes have changed very quickly. And for people that have been around and been working on these political issues and gay rights for decades now, it was important that the people coming up today, the kids coming out today, to know that there was a past here -- that we fought for things, and that you have to be vigilant. I mean things that we fought for can be taken away. So it's very important that we tell our story; it's very important that we preserve our story.

The Portsmouth Athenaeum is open Tuesday through Saturday 1-4 p.m., and by special arrangement, and on the first Friday of the month it is open from 5 to 8 p.m. as part of the Art 'Round Town series. The exhibit at the Randall gallery in Portsmouth runs through July.