PORTSMOUTH – The timing of “Standing Together: Seacoast LGBTQ+ Social and Support Groups” couldn’t be better, according to Tom Kaufhold, who curates the exhibition which opens June 3 at the Randall Gallery at the Portsmouth Athenaeum.
“We exist, we existed, we were part of the Seacoast,” said Kaufhold, founder of the Seacoast NH LGBT History Project. “It’s frustrating that people want to erase us.”
The aim of her group is to research, document and preserve the history of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, with a focus on Portsmouth.
Kaufhold said “Standing Together” builds on 2019’s “Seacoast LGBT History: 50 Years of Rainbow Reflections.”
This exhibition 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 teenagers who ignored his cries he didn’t know not swim.
“He was one of a kind”: Portsmouth bench pays tribute to Charlie Howard killed for being gay
Kaufhold and the History Project have raised funds to create two memorial benches for Howard in Portsmouth, one in Commercial Alley and the other at Portsmouth High School.
The GSA (Gender & Sexuality Alliance/Gay Straight Alliance) student group helps organize the event at the high school. It is scheduled for June 1 at 4 p.m.
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The inauguration of the granite bench in the shopping aisle will take place on July 11 at 6 p.m.
Bob Lister was a teacher when Howard was at Portsmouth High in the late 1970s.
“As a student, he always said, ‘Mr. Lister, this is who I am.
This quote is engraved on the school’s memorial bench.
Lister, who became superintendent of schools as well as an alderman and mayor of Portsmouth, described Howard as “a resilient and compassionate young man who had to turn the other cheek many times in the face of the intolerance around him”.
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“Charlie’s death was a tragedy, but I’m confident he opened up opportunities for other young people and even in death he is a role model,” Lister wrote in an email. “If Charlie were with us today he would use his leadership skills to get involved in the LGBT movement and be a friend to many.”
Kaufhold said LGBT activism in the Seacoast began 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 local groups that initially formed as part of social movements across the United States to fight for LGBTQ+ rights,” he said.
In recent years he has worked with the Athenaeum to archive material 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 yourself and finding community has always been a challenge,” she wrote in an email.
“That’s why exhibits like this are so important to all of us – our allies need to understand our struggles and celebrations; LGBTQ adults need to remember how far we’ve come (and how far we still have to go) and of our LGBTQ youth, in particular, need to see positive role models who have achieved spectacular success not despite who they are, but often because of it.”
Portsmouth Public Library Technical Services Supervisor Sarah Cornell is the liaison between the library and the Seacoast NH LGBT History Project.
“The library has agreed to be the repository for audio-visual materials collected by the project, including CDs of Women Singing Out! and oral histories collected by Professor Holly Cashman of the University of New Hampshire,” Cornell said. “Special Collections staff and a UNH intern have inventoried numerous VHS and DVD tapes, and we are now 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 really feels like we’re on a roll, with interns, PPL Special Collections, the Athenaeum, Portsmouth 400 and all the organizations that have donated gear. It’s really quite amazing.”
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Kaufhold said that had always been his goal.
“We try to be part of the fabric of cultural institutions in Portsmouth,” he said.
The exhibition is free and will continue until July 15. It is open Tuesday through Saturday, 1 p.m. 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 places are limited.
The Portsmouth Athenaeum, 9 Market Square, is a not-for-profit library and museum founded in 1817. It is open by appointment, Tuesday to Saturday, 1-4pm. For more information or to schedule a visit or attend Kaufhold’s conference, call 603-431. -2538 or email [email protected]