The timing of “Standing Together: Seacoast LGBTQ+ Social and Support Groups” couldn’t be better, according to Tom Kaufhold, who is curating the exhibit opening June 3 in the Portsmouth Athenaeum’s Randall Gallery.
“We exist, we have existed, we’ve been part of the Seacoast,” said Kaufhold, founder of the Seacoast NH LGBT History Project. “It’s frustrating that people want to erase us.”
His group’s purpose is to research, document and preserve the history of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, with an emphasis on Portsmouth.
Kaufhold said “Standing Together” builds on 2019’s “Seacoast LGBT History: 50 Years of Rainbow Reflections.”
That exhibit ended with a special event at the Athenaeum commemorating the life of Charlie Howard. The Portsmouth High School graduate was 23 when he was killed in an anti-gay attack in Bangor, Maine, thrown from a bridge in 1984 by three teens who ignored his cries that he could not swim.
Kaufhold and the history project raised money to create two memorial benches for Howard in Portsmouth, one in Commercial Alley and the other at Portsmouth High School.
The student group GSA (Gender & Sexuality Alliance/Gay Straight Alliance) is helping organize the event at the high school. It is scheduled for June 1 at 4 p.m.
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The dedication of the granite bench in Commercial Alley will be July 11 at 6 p.m.
Bob Lister was a teacher when Howard was at Portsmouth High in the late 1970s.
“As my student, he would always say, ‘Mr. Lister, this is who I am.’”
That quote is engraved on the memorial bench at the school.
Lister, who went on to become superintendent of schools as well as a Portsmouth city councilor and mayor, described Howard as “a resilient, compassionate young man who had to turn the other cheek on many occasions when faced with intolerance around him.”
“Charlie’s death was a tragedy, but I am convinced that he has opened up opportunities for other young people and even in death he is a role model,” Lister wrote in an email. “If Charlie was with us today, he would be using his leadership skills to be involved in the LGBT movement and would be a friend to many.”
Kaufhold said LGBT activism in the Seacoast got started in the 1970s and accelerated in the 1980s and 1990s.
“Seacoast Outright, AIDS Response Seacoast, Seacoast Gay Men, Women Singing Out! and Out and About are among the local groups that formed starting as part of the social movements across the United States to fight for LGBTQ+ rights,” he said.
For the last several years, he has worked with the Athenaeum to archive materials related to the movement – photographs, posters, banners, buttons, brochures, T-shirts, newsletters, newspaper clippings.
Hershey Hirschkop is executive director of Seacoast Outright, one of the groups contributing to the exhibit.
“Not only did LGBTQ identity not exist until recently, but finding each other and community has always been a challenge,” she wrote in an email.
“That’s why exhibits like this are so important for all of us – our allies need to understand our struggles and celebrations; LGBTQ adults need to remember how far we’ve come (and how much further we have to go), and our LGBTQ youth, especially, need to see positive role models who have succeeded spectacularly not in spite of whom they are, but often because of it.”
Portsmouth Public Library Supervisor of Technical Services Sarah Cornell is the liaison between the library and the Seacoast NH LGBT History Project.
“The library has agreed to be the repository for the audiovisual materials the project collects, including CDs from Women Singing Out! and oral histories collected by University of New Hampshire professor Holly Cashman,” Cornell said. “Special Collections staff and a UNH intern have inventoried many VHS tapes and DVDs, and we are currently deciding on the best storage options and how to make them available to researchers and the general public.”
The effort began in 2015.
“Just today I realized how many community partnerships have come to fruition since we started,” Cornell said. “Now it feels like we’re really on a roll, with interns, PPL Special Collections, the Athenaeum, Portsmouth 400, and all the organizations who’ve donated materials. It’s really pretty amazing.”
Kaufhold said this has been his goal all along.
“We’re trying to become part of the fabric of Portsmouth’s cultural institutions,” he said.
The exhibit is free and will run through July 15. It is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 1 to 4 p.m., at 9 Market Square.
On June 16 at 7 p.m., Kaufhold will give a brief history of the project and a tour of the exhibit with behind-the-scenes commentary.
Reservations are required, as space is limited.
The Portsmouth Athenaeum, 9 Market Square, is a nonprofit membership library and museum founded in 1817. The Shaw Research Library and Randall Gallery are open Tuesday through Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m. For more information or to schedule a visit or attend Kaufhold’s talk, call 603-431-2538 or email email@example.com.
Exhibit closes on July 15, 2022
[IMAGE: The Open Door Coalition of Portsmouth participated in the 1993 March for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi-equal Rights and Liberation in Concord, NH.]
Exhibit At A Glance
Friday June 3, 2022
5 – 7 p.m.
Randall Gallery, Third Floor, Portsmouth Athenaeum
LECTURE WITH CURATOR TOM KAUFHOLD
June 16, 2022
July 15, 2022
Written by Sherry Wood. This article first appeared in the Portsmouth Herald / seacoastonline.com.