Seacoast LGBT History Project founder Tom Kaufhold can tell you what led to the work that has consumed him the last four years.
“It started with me cleaning out my desk,” he said.
Inside that desk were documents related to a fight for an Equal Rights Ordinance in Portsmouth in 1993 and the March on Washington that same year for Lesbian, Gay and Bi-Equal Rights and Liberation.
“I had all these things I didn’t want to throw away,” Kaufhold said.
And thus was born an effort to collect and preserve local history related to the Seacoast’s LGBT community, one that is culminating Friday, May 3 with the opening of a free exhibit at the Portsmouth Athenaeum, a nonprofit library and museum.”Seacoast LGBT History: 50 Years of Rainbow Reflections” opens with a 5 to 8 p.m. reception in the Athenaeum’s Randall Gallery at 9 Market Square.
The exhibit will feature topics ranging from arts and culture to health, politics and activism, commerce and spirituality. “Rainbow Reflections” coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City’s Greenwich Village.
“The Stonewall Riots are considered the beginning of the gay rights movement in the United States,” Kaufhold said. “It was a night the patrons of the Stonewall Inn fought back against police raids and corruption. From it stemmed Pride celebrations across the country in June to commemorate the riots.”
There will be a gallery talk at the Athenaeum on Saturday, May 18 from 11 a.m. to noon and Thursday, June 6 from 7 to 8 p.m.to discuss the collection and how it came about.
A gallery talk on Thursday, May 30 from 7 to 8 p.m. will include a showing of video collected for the project.
On Saturday, June 15, Holly R. Cashman, associate professor of Spanish and Women’s Studies at the University of New Hampshire, will talk about the oral history project she is conducting in the NH Seacoast LGBTQ+ community. Cashman will include excerpts from oral histories, identify some themes that have emerged, and discuss concerns related to methods and preservation of these stories. Her talk is from 11 a.m. to noon.Reservations are required for gallery talks, as space is limited.
For the month of June, the Seacoast LGBT History Project is collaborating with Portsmouth Public Library in another exhibit, this one dedicated to telling the stories of the LGBT community. Posters will be displayed covering the national and local history of the fight for rights. A reception for this exhibit will be held June 12 from 6 to 8 p.m. Portsmouth Public Library Supervisor of Technical Services Sarah Cornell will discuss the stories being told in the exhibit posters on June 18 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. as part of the library’s Local History Talks series.
The Athenaeum exhibit will include a map of sites that are significant to the LGBT community, including the Friends Meeting House in Dover, where a Dover LGBT group met for 10 years, and the Sagamore Club, a gay nightclub in Portsmouth on the top floor of what is now the Pressroom. It was open from 1957 to 1978.
“You had to go up the back stairs and ring a bell to get in,” Kaufhold said.
There will be ephemera from the Seaport Club, which started in 1977 in a building off the Route 1 bypass and ended up on Green Street. According to Kaufhold, it was open until Halloween 1995 and featured a piano bar on the second floor.
Kaufhold has memorabilia from Portsmouth’s first Gay History Walk in 1994 and the New Hampshire Pride event at Pat’s Peak Ski Area ski in Henniker in the early 1990s. The first Pride Day in Portsmouth did not come until 2014. It fell on the day after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. Crowds filled Market Square to celebrate.
“Change happened really fast with the marriage ruling,” Kaufhold said. “People don’t realize that we have had to fight for things. We want to be sure people know about the struggles of the past and the work that was done to get to where we are today.”
On Pride Day in Portsmouth, June 22, the exhibit will be open extended hours, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The exhibit closes July 6.
Written by Sherry Wood.