Winter 1974. From front-row seats in the New Hampshire Supreme Court, three UNH students listen as a lawyer for their university says they have "a communicable mental illness." The illness is homosexuality, the lawyer tells the justices, and thus it's legal for the university to bar the Gay Students Organization from social contact with other students. This is one of multiple times in the last year that UNH has asked a court to limit what the GSO can do. During those months, the governor and the only statewide newspaper have campaigned relentlessly to stop the group. Front-page headlines like "Boot Out the Pansies" and gubernatorial threats to veto the university budget have been almost daily fare since 1973, and they will continue through 1975.
Spring 2010. From rainbow-decorated tables in the MUB's Granite State Room, nearly 250 people listen as UNH President Mark Huddleston hails the GLBT community's contributions to the university. The president of GLAAD delivers a speech marveling that once-conservative New Hampshire has legalized gay marriage. Student award winners proudly take the stage amid applause, bright banners, and the scent of maple syrup. This is the 18th annual pancake breakfast, where tabletop brochures hail "the pioneers who founded UNH's first gay student organization."
The pioneers in the 2010 pamphlet and the students in the 1974 courtroom are the same people. This is the story of their time at UNH—when they were called sick and perverted and worse, when media attention forced some of them to come out to their families long before they wanted to, when their cause became a court decision that's still cited in students'-rights cases today. The story of UNH's first officially recognized gay organization has its share of trauma, but it's also a tale of triumph. No matter what Gov. Meldrim Thomson and Manchester Union Leader publisher William Loeb threw at them, the students persevered. In court, the GSO's lawyers won every fight, and on campus, for the most part, the students felt support—or at least tolerance. The one contest they lost, bidding on breakfast with Thomson in the Channel 11 fundraising auction, lives on as a victory, having inspired UNH's annual GLBT pancake breakfast.
From the perspective of 2010, the world gay students inhabited in the 1970s seems like another planet. The GSO controversy involved the most personal of issues, but it was also one knot in the tangle of '70s politics—when so many were protesting so much, when the university and its president were already under fire, and when going to court, even if it made the administration look bad in the short term, seemed the only way to settle the questions once and for all. "We were confident the students' rights would prevail," says J. Bonnie Newman '07H, who was dean of students at the time. "These kids were very brave to do what they did, at a time when most people weren't even aware they knew anybody gay. They were pioneers of the civil rights movement."
Of course, history feels messier when you're living it. The founders and early members of the Gay Students Organization can't look back at UNH with the same uncomplicated affection as other alumni. But they're fiercely devoted to the friends they made and the lessons they learned in Durham. Today, closing in on age 60, they remain committed to lives of activism and social justice. The six alumni who speak here are just a few of those who fought the fight. As they search their mental hard drives for scenes from those wild years, the GSO pioneers argue good-naturedly about who did what and what happened when. Details blur, but all of them share one clear memory: We made a difference, and we had fun. Luckily, one of them, Bob Kruger '73, had the foresight to save seven scrapbooks of newspaper stories that now live in the UNH Archives, bolstering memories with headlines.
UNH Homosexuals looking out the closet door (The New Hampshire, April 12, 1973)
When Wayne April '74 returned to Durham after taking a year off, he wondered how he'd stayed quiet before. "I was really dissatisfied with the state of gay life on campus—or the fact that there wasn't any, and what there was, was kind of clandestine," he says. Occasionally The New Hampshire would run a story that touched on gay students' lives, but nobody in the story would be named.
In the spring of 1973, nervous but determined, April walked into the TNH office and said he'd be happy to speak on the record. At the urging of editor Ed Penhale '73, he gathered 10 people at the house he rented in Barrington. They told Penhale about the "gay table" in the MUB (or "the Union," as they called it then) and the frustrating lack of social outlets on a campus that, Penhale wrote, "has put homosexualism in the closet and would like to keep it that way." Three men and one woman were named in the story. Shortly after it ran, April went to the Student Organizing Committee, seeking recognition of the new Gay Students Organization.
For the opening salvo in a two-year war, the GSO's statement of purpose was, April says now, "really vanilla." Its four paragraphs listed four goals: promote recognition of gay people on campus, organize social functions at which straight and gay people can learn from each other, sponsor programs to educate the public, and give gay members of the campus community a way to communicate. April followed with a first-person piece in the paper explaining why he was willing to go public. "I am fed up," he wrote. "I am not abnormal, sick or perverted, and henceforth my life is going to be lived in the open, as it should be, with a healthy consciousness and an open state of mind." He added a warning to others in the closet: "You have a sorry life ahead if you think you can make it as a straight when you know damn well that you're not."
UNH Recognizes 'Gays' (New Hampshire Sunday News, May 20, 1973)
The GSO quickly won recognition as an official student group, and meetings proceeded quietly... until the governor got wind of them. "It is unfortunate that a 'gay club' made up of socially sick students has been organized and officially recognized on the university campus," Thomson wrote to his fellow trustees on May 19. "The university is not a hospital for the disturbed." Though the trustees had no power to certify or decertify a student group, the governor urged them to take "constructive remedial action."
Before writing that letter, Thomson had solicited an opinion from Attorney General Warren Rudman—and, when Rudman said the university had no grounds to object to the GSO so long as it followed university rules, decided to ignore him. The rest of the trustees took note, however, and all but one voted May 20 to recognize the GSO. Although the vote carried no authority, it was all Thomson and Loeb needed to start a front-page circus. Thomson immediately vowed to replace the offending trustees "as fast as I can," and the paper began publishing a constant stream of stories and editorials about "sodomy" and "the lads with yellow socks," under headlines like "Perverts Will Flock to UNH."
For the early GSO members, this unfolding melodrama created two New Hampshires: the nasty larger world that seemed to want them gone, and the friendlier campus world, where life continued somewhat normally. "I felt like being at UNH was a haven away from the rest of the state," says Kruger, who was one of April's housemates that year. His mental picture of New Hampshire from that time resembles a New Yorker cover: a little green oasis called UNH, with the Union Leader looming menacingly all around it.
Boot Out the Pansies (New Hampshire Sunday News, May 20, 1973, and Union Leader, May 23)
"Yesterday's action by the UNH Board of Trustees in voting to recognize a campus chapter of 'gay liberationists,' that is to say homosexuals, is the most repugnant, asinine and spineless bit of stupidity yet displayed by that bunch," read an editorial by B.J. McQuaid that Loeb liked so well, he reprinted it on the front page three days later. "It is nothing less than a disgusting affront to common decency and the sensibilities of New Hampshire's citizens."
Although a Union Leader headline declaring "The citizenry is sickened" no doubt overstated the case, the paper did print dozens of letters to the editor urging that gay students be drummed out of Durham before they corrupted their innocent classmates. One letter writer noted that a farmer finding his bulls engaged in homosexual acts "would slaughter them all." Even people making more supportive statements tended to portray gay students as objects of pity. In a May 23 letter to "friends of the university," UNH President Thomas Bonner supported the GSO's right to exist and urged the public to pay attention to more important matters on campus, like the energy crisis and budget shortfall. Then he added, "I question the human compassion of those who force the glare of morbid attention and publicity on these unfortunate youngsters."
As the school year ended, April wasn't feeling unfortunate, just overwhelmed. By stepping forward as the GSO's spokesman, he'd become the contact for what felt like every Granite Stater unsure of his or her sexuality. The citizenry was not so much sickened as confused, and suddenly they all knew where to find him. "I received so many calls from people who were struggling with their sexual identity, including older people who had nobody to talk to," April says. "At one point I thought, 'I can't help another middle-aged man.' I was so exhausted by trying to be everything to everybody." The other GSO members were grateful to him then, and even moreso looking back. "Wayne was the voice and face of the organization," says Richard Maxfield '74, who worked with April at the library. "He was so articulate. He wasn't an in-your-face kind of activist; he was logical and reasonable and just a great person to have representing us."
Are the Gays Worse than Editor's Hatred? (Boston Globe, May 25, 1973)
If fighting for gay rights seemed exotic to New Hampshire, it seemed natural to the students; they had been paying close attention to the movement that grew from the 1969 police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York. And if attacks by the Union Leader seemed new to the students, they were all too familiar to the UNH administration; Loeb had been blasting the university in one form or another for decades. Even before Bonner arrived as the new UNH president in 1971, Loeb's newspapers had launched attacks on him so vicious that the national media took note. Among Bonner's perceived offenses was being a friend of, and former legislative aide to, Sen. George McGovern, the anti-war Democrat who was running for president when Bonner accepted the UNH job.
"Next UNH President Once Marched Amid Viet Cong Flags" read the headline on a 1971 Union Leader story reporting that in his previous job as provost at the University of Cincinnati, Bonner had walked alongside students in a silent protest march. "His 'Cadre' Brought Beer, Liquor, All-Night Sex to University of Cincinnati Campus," another headline proclaimed. Bonner fought back, issuing press releases and visiting media outlets to make sure they knew about positive happenings on campus.
Those efforts later paid off for the GSO, if not for Bonner. As the controversy wore on, most of the other papers in New Hampshire, plus occasionally the Boston Globe, ran editorials and columns supporting the students and blasting Loeb and Thomson, whose candidacy for governor Loeb had ceaselessly championed. The New Hampshire became increasingly articulate in its outrage, at one point describing Loeb and Thomson this way: "Like ancient oracles they sit in Manchester and Concord, inveighing against the wages of sin between hotline calls to the Almighty, with all the grace and presence of mind of so many chain-gang bosses." Editorial writers around the state opined that raising a ruckus over the GSO was merely an excuse to perpetuate a longstanding bias against money for education. As Foster's Daily Democrat in Dover editorialized, "The furor initiated by the Manchester press and echoed by its puppet in the governor's office is taking place in order to sabotage efforts to adequately fund the university."
Dance Stirs New GSO Debate (The New Hampshire, Nov. 13, 1973)
While the students were away for the summer, the controversy quieted somewhat, so in the fall the GSO members decided to hold a dance. "We were kids," says Ann Philbin '76. "We took school seriously and our causes seriously, but mostly we just wanted a normal college life." Roma Baran '74G , a music grad student who lived with Philbin and others in a big house on Silver Street in Dover, remembers the GSO as "this little group of ordinary, nice, pleasant, well-meaning people. We didn't picket or shout or sit in. Our level of activism was pretty benign." So was the campus response. In October The New Hampshire published the oh-so-'70s results of an unscientific survey done by the GSO: Of 485 students who filled out the questionnaire, "not only did over half the respondents smoke marijuana regularly and a whopping 70 percent engage in frequent sexual activity, but an overwhelming 90 percent had no objection to having a gay organization on campus."
Because the GSO would hold several dances in the next few years, members' memories of the events have converged. Baran remembers a retro daytime sock hop where they decorated with pink streamers and danced the jitterbug to 45 rpm records. April remembers a nighttime dance attended by more heterosexual students than gays. Philbin remembers more reporters and picketers than dancers. Various newspapers reported that 60 to 75 students attended. No one reported any trouble.
Nevertheless, the dance turned out to be the trigger for the next round of controversy, and this time it led to the courts. The day after the dance, a committee of the trustees said the university was looking into the legality of the GSO's holding social events, and until that question was settled, no more could be held. Then things began to happen fast. On Nov. 21 the university filed for a declaratory judgment in Strafford County Superior Court, asking whether it had the authority to revoke recognition of the GSO and to limit the group's activities to lectures and discussions. Eight days later, the American Civil Liberties Union sued in federal court, alleging that the ban on social functions violated group members' rights under the First and Fourteenth amendments.
The GSO had already scheduled a play called "Coming Out," to be performed by a Boston theater troupe on Dec. 7. The new rules meant the group could have the play but not the social event it had planned afterward. When the GSO offered Thomson free tickets to the play, the governor responded with a note saying that he wanted the play barred from campus and, as far as the GSO, "it is my belief that every member should be dismissed from the university."
UNH Given Ultimatum: Ban Gay Group or Lose Funds, Thomson Warns (Union Leader, Dec. 16, 1973)
Though the play involved a little same-sex kissing, and one of the actors ad-libbed "The governor can go f--- himself," all might have gone smoothly if not for a sideshow that became the main event: Outside the auditorium, a few non-students distributed copies of an explicit magazine called Fag Rag. Several UNH administrators quickly went public to say that the GSO was not responsible; nevertheless, the incident provided new ammunition for the group's opponents and became a focus of court testimony. The Union Leader printed stories quoting the most salacious passages from the magazine and warning parents to beware gay students' "predatory pursuit" of their children.
A week after the play, Thomson made his intentions perfectly clear in a letter to the trustees: "Either you take firm, fair and positive action to rid your campus of socially abhorrent activities, or I as governor will stand solidly against the expenditure of one more cent of taxpayers' money for your institutions." The Union Leader cheered this threat of "an impoundment of university funds pending the rescindment of pansy-pampering actions."
Meanwhile, GSO members were facing their own form of ultimatum: Come out to your families before the publicity does it for you. While April and secretary-treasurer Lou Kelly '74 were still doing much of the talking for the GSO, others had also begun speaking out, turning up at trustees meetings and other public functions. It was only a matter of time before people noticed—as Kruger discovered when a high school classmate approached him at a trustees meeting to thank him for standing against the gays, and Kruger had to tell him that actually, he was there supporting his fellow members of the GSO.
In those pre-Internet days, students from out of state could gamble that their parents wouldn't see the coverage. Some students who lived closer could gamble that their families simply preferred not to confront the issue. "I brought all my friends home, and my parents were very nice and welcoming,, but I never actually said, 'I'm gay,' " says Maxfield, one of the Silver Street housemates. "I never felt pressure from them about girlfriends or getting married, so I think they must have known. But in a New England French Canadian Catholic family, some things were best left unsaid."
April didn't have the luxury of silence; he was being quoted so often that he knew his mother would notice. He'd heard her make negative comments about gays before, so he drove home to Nashua one weekend wondering, "How do you tell your mother you're something she despises?" When he arrived, he tried to put it off and then finally just blurted out the words. "It was the hardest thing I've ever said," he recalls. "I thought she was going to have a heart attack." Over time, though, the idea began to seem less alien. When he brought a group of friends home to help her move, his mother said, "Are all those boys gay? They're very nice." Overall, April felt lucky; he had friends whose parents had responded to their coming out by cutting them off from both family contact and tuition payments.
"We were pushed out in front in a way that was beyond our years," says Cris Arguedas '75, another of the Silver Street housemates, who had to come out to her parents when she was about to be quoted in The New York Times. GSO members found unwavering support in one another, and once the lawyers from the ACLU got involved, the students didn't have to pay much attention to the daily maneuverings of the state and federal cases. Still, Arguedas and Philbin remember feeling nervous. Newman says that she and Richard Stevens, vice provost for student affairs, privately made it clear to the students that the goal of the legal cases was not to shut down the GSO but rather to settle the question of authority and thus silence the critics. But to the students, it still felt as if a judge might at any minute sanction kicking them out of school. "The potential downside was pretty grave," says Arguedas, who today is a prominent defense lawyer in California, "and we didn't have any way to know if we'd win or lose."
Gay Students Gain Equality in Court Decision (The New Hampshire, Feb. 8, 1974)
Each week brought a new wrinkle. The student caucus passed a resolution supporting the GSO. Wayne April and student body president Paul "Primo" Tosi '74 testified in the federal case. The women in the Silver Street house started a women's group that, like the GSO, often met in their living room. Gay groups at other universities—Princeton, Missouri, Georgia, Oklahoma, Maine—began getting publicity for their efforts to be recognized. It was, in short, the 1970s. "Everything pales in comparison to the '70s—in terms of the intensity, the complexity of the issues, the passion of the people involved," says Newman, who was dean of students in the '70s and then returned to campus as an interim dean and interim president in 1998 and 2006. "It was a real shift culturally from what we had known up to that point."
On Jan. 16, 1974, Judge Hugh Bownes of U.S. District Court in Concord formalized that culture shift with the first legal decision in the case, a resounding victory for the GSO. Bownes ruled that as a recognized student group, the GSO had the same rights as every other student group. The university "may not restrict speech or association simply because it finds the views expressed by any group to be abhorrent," he wrote. "Minority groups as well as majority groups must be given an opportunity to express themselves, for only in this way can our system of peaceful social change be maintained."
The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union called it the nation's first broad decision on the rights of gay students. The Portsmouth Herald said Bownes had "struck a mighty blow for the right of people to be themselves." Thomson said the judge had enforced sexual perversion. The Union Leader editorialized, in all caps, "WHAT IS THE USE OF POURING MILLIONS ON MILLIONS INTO AN INSTITUTION WHOSE MORAL FOUNDATIONS ARE ROTTEN AT THE CORE?"
At a meeting three days later, after April and Tosi urged them not to, the trustees voted to appeal. But the vote was much closer (14-8) than previous votes related to the GSO, and the opponents of continuing the fight were more vocal. Several trustees urged the board to give up and move on. Joseph Millimet, the university's lawyer, said that given Bownes' statements about the GSO's First Amendment rights, "I am not sanguine about the outcome of an appeal."
Sodomites Sane? Up to Court (Union Leader, April 9, 1974)
Bownes' ruling attracted enough attention that Newsweek and other national publications ran stories on the GSO dispute. The ACLU tried to get the state case dismissed, saying the federal ruling had settled the question. Two weeks later, UNH amended its state petition to ask whether homosexuality being a mental illness provided a valid reason for the university to regulate the GSO's social activities without infringing on its First Amendment rights. The American Psychiatric Association had taken homosexuality off its list of mental disorders the previous year, but differences of opinion continued; the American Psychological Association did not pass a resolution supporting that action until 1975.
The hearing on the mental disorder question would not come until the end of 1974. Baran, Arguedas and Philbin clearly remember the disbelief they felt, sitting in the New Hampshire Supreme Court as a lawyer for their university argued that they were mentally ill. "These older men in suits who didn't know us ... they were talking about us—me and Wayne and Crissie and Annie," Baran says. "That was the day the insane fervor of the way they were pursuing their position began to strike me."
Today, Baran and Arguedas are both lawyers. Back then, however, they thought like students. Arguedas recalls that as Millimet argued that homosexuals had a communicable mental illness, "we were sitting right behind him in the front row. So if we had one, he was very likely to catch it!" All three of the women remember vacillating between anger and laughter. "When they're saying something like that in an august courtroom with the justices and the flag and all that, it lends it some dignity, yet it was like Saturday Night Live, what they were saying," Arguedas said.
Baran remembers that they sat in the courtoom horrified, then went out into the hall and cracked up. The contrast between their responsible, good-student selves and the dangerous sick people described in court was just too absurd. "When you think about it," says Philbin, "we must have been pretty self-confident, to not let that get to us. I never remember thinking, 'Oh my god, do I have a communicable disease?' I just remember thinking, 'These people are jerks.' "
Behind Bonner's Resignation at UNH: Two Years of Attacks by Publisher William Loeb (Chronicle of Higher Education, April 15, 1974)
As graduation approached, April was feeling proud of what the GSO had accomplished, but also exhausted. So, it turned out, was the president of UNH. In March Thomas Bonner announced that he would leave UNH at the end of the school year to become president of Union College in upstate New York. For the Chronicle of Higher Education, a national publication, this development merited a long front-page story tracing the "bitter, decades-long battle between the state university and New Hampshire's largest newspaper." The Union Leader's attacks on Bonner, the Chronicle wrote, "seemed extraordinarily vicious, even by the standards of New Hampshire's often turbulent political discourse."
New Hampshire editorial writers met Bonner's resignation announcement with outrage. Foster's described him as "the victim of one of the most unending and malevolent hate campaigns ever witnessed in our or any other state," while the Concord Monitor said Loeb's attacks "made the activities of the Ku Klux Klan a choirboys picnic by comparison." Bonner himself said little at the time. But four years later, when he became president of Wayne State University, he told a Detroit magazine that Loeb "dislikes whatever he cannot control. The university was the one institution in the state that he had not been able to intimidate." In that story, UNH trustee Paul Holloway called Bonner "a strong president who did a super job." But he agreed with Bonner that if he'd stayed, the endless controversies would have thwarted future accomplishments.
Caught up in those controversies, the members of the GSO held a range of opinions of the university administration back then, and those views have evolved over time. All of them are grateful to a few administrators who kept them updated and offered support behind the scenes, though they wish someone had done so publicly. April believes Bonner was simply stuck; he could not speak out without losing his job. Baran says, "We chose to go to school in New Hampshire; we knew the climate of the time. I have separated in my mind that particular cast of characters from the institution of the university and my experience of it." Arguedas says, "I didn't particularly blame this on UNH; I blamed it on the Union Leader and Meldrim Thomson. They pressured the university because Thomson held the pursestrings."
Philbin feels more conflicted. Even under pressure, she believes, "UNH didn't have to say to the governor 'OK, OK, we'll do whatever you say.' Let's just say they weren't exactly heroes. At some universities, this would not have ended up in court." All of them agree that the Union Leader's continued demonization of the GSO ended up backfiring. As Maxfield puts it, "The extremists pushed the moderates to our side of the court."
UNH Gays Raising Money To Win Thomson Breakfast (Boston Sunday Globe, May 12, 1974)
Though the GSO remained small, the first court victory boosted its clout (and its "cool factor," Philbin says), and members began to capitalize on the change. They would announce a social event—for instance, speaking on WUNH one day, Arguedas cooked up the idea that a softball game for gay students from around New England would take place that weekend—and magically, it would happen.
They also began taking the group's educational mission more seriously. Arguedas and several others became a gay students speakers bureau that visited dorms and fraternities, aiming to demystify homosexuality. Small and blond, with hair down to her waist, Arguedas would get up in front of a room of hooting and hollering fraternity members and tell her story: "This is who I am, this is who I was growing up, and then one day I fell in love with someone who to my surprise turned out to be a girl." By the end of the night, Philbin recalls, audience members would be raising their hands and asking serious questions, "and it was so moving because it was like she was taming the room." Arguedas pulled off that transformation over and over, Philbin says. "It was incredibly courageous of Crissie—and that's why the rest of us stayed in the back of the room and let her do the talking." Kruger says of those years, "I don't remember any overt anti-gay incidents on campus, but the only gay-affirming incidents were the ones we created."
Before everyone headed home for the summer, a new event grabbed the GSO's attention. New Hampshire Public Television was holding its first fundraising auction, and one of the items up for bid was a pancake breakfast with Thomson and his wife at the governor's mansion, featuring maple syrup made on their Orford farm. Never having sat down with Thomson through the long months of controversy, GSO members started raising money to bid on the breakfast. The publicity that encouraged people to contribute also alerted the governor to their plan. On May 11, the day before the auction, several newspapers ran stories reporting that a UNH grad student had been contacted by a representative of the governor's office who offered whatever money he might need to outbid the GSO.
Both Thomson and the grad student denied that rumor. But on the night of May 12, when the GSO bid $1,025 for the pancake breakfast, that was the highest bid shown on TV. The auction for other items continued. The auctioneer made no "last chance" call for the pancake breakfast, as he was doing for other items, and then suddenly he announced that bidding on the breakfast was closed—at $1,075. The winning bidder was a store owner from Hampton who was working at the auction and said he'd simply decided to bid at the last minute. Both he and the station's management denied that the governor or politics had played any role. But a student who was working the phones at the auction wrote in The New Hampshire later that from where he sat, things looked just as they did to the audience at home: The GSO had made the high bid and was not given a chance to counter the subsequent one.
"We won, but they didn't give it to us," Maxfield says. "That's the short version of the story--which didn't surprise any of us at the time. It just added to the whole idea that we were being discriminated against."
Thomson Says Battle Not Over (Union Leader, Jan. 3, 1975)
When classes resumed that fall, the GSO seemed an established part of the campus scene. Then, on Dec. 30, 1974, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston made it official: It upheld the January decision by Bownes, establishing once and for all that the GSO had a constitutional right to exist and hold social functions, just like every other student group on campus. The Union Leader ran more editorials, with headlines like "The Feds OK Sodomy," and Thomson made noise about appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. But he never formally made that request to the trustees; it was clear they'd had enough. "I don't think anybody is making any fuss about this thing except the governor and William Loeb," trustee Charles Spanos '57 told the Associated Press in January. Board chair Philip Dunlap added, "I really don't think it is an issue any longer."
It was 10 more months, October 1975, before the state Supreme Court issued its decision in the separate state case, and that last legal pronouncement proved an anticlimax. The court had a simple message for the university: If you wanted to say that homosexuality was a mental disorder, you should have said it in the federal case. Too late now. Case closed.
By then, most of the early GSO members had graduated, taking memories that were more personal than political. Twenty years apart, Arguedas and Baran went to law school, where each encountered a shock: They learned that the federal case about the GSO was considered an important precedent. Baran remembers staring at the name of the case—Gay Students Organization of the University of New Hampshire v. Bonner—on a course syllabus and shouting to herself, "That's us!" The case has been cited in at least 50 subsequent cases and mentioned in hundreds of books and articles, and Lambda Legal's website lists it as one of the 40 most important cases affecting the rights of GLBT people. "Deep in everyone's heart, we understood this to be a civil rights issue; no one had any animosity for the students," says Bonnie Newman, the former dean of students. "They were good, good people, and they made a difference. You never know when you'll be part of history."
The efforts of the GSO pioneers live on not just in the annual UNH pancake breakfast but in the vastly changed climate for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people in the state and on campus. Even before new students arrive in Durham (and these days, many have already come out in high school, something unheard of in the '70s), they hear about all the types of support and acknowledgment available on campus— the President's Commission on the Status of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues; the student organizations UNH Alliance and Stonewall Grads; the full-time LGBTQ coordinator; the resources offered by the residential life office, counseling center, Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and Affirmative Action Office; the Safe Zones program; film series and other events dealing with gender identity; and the new Pathways career mentoring program.
It's a different world, and the GSO alumni are happy to be living in it. All have thriving careers and stable lives with long-term partners. Though they don't dwell on what happened in the '70s, it remains a memory and source of pride. "It was a very liberating time, literally and emotionally and culturally," says Richard Maxfield, who recently wrapped up a career in information sciences and now coordinates volunteers for the New Hampshire SPCA. "I think we educated a lot of people, took away their comfort level. I feel lucky to have been there."
Wayne April, a social worker in California, donates to the university whose name stands opposite his in the lawbooks: The state case is called University of New Hampshire v. Wayne April and Gay Students Organization. His memories of those years focus on specific moments, like the day a professor stopped him on campus. "He was married and had kids, and he said that if he could do things over again, it would have been different. And that's why I'm glad that I did what I did, because I could have been one of those people who live a kind of false life their whole lives, who never live genuinely. We opened up something that was waiting to be opened up for a long time, and people jumped at the opportunity to express themselves."
In the years since UNH, most of the GSO pioneers have been active in the fight against AIDS (April ran a residence for people with AIDS in San Francisco), and all have embraced other causes. Kruger, a programmer for a subsidiary of Xerox, helped start an independent Catholic Church in Virginia that welcomes every kind of diversity. Baran, a musician and music producer, focuses her New York law practice on defending poor people charged with crimes. Arguedas, whose name appears on many lists of top lawyers in the country and whose high-profile clients have included OJ Simpson and Barry Bonds, also works with the Innocence Project and defends activists who've been arrested.
Ann Philbin's job as director of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles (last year she was number 28 on Art Review's international list of the 100 most powerful people in art) lets her pursue a new form of activism: bringing people together to hear important speakers, watch films and in other ways unsettle their thinking. "My experience at UNH was completely formative and basically turned me into an activist, which is a spirit and a mandate I've had for the rest of my life," she says. Among the early GSO members, she stayed angry at the university the longest, even while acknowledging it was place where she met her best friends. She and Baran and Arguedas still talk regularly and take vacations together, and over time Philbin has mellowed. Last spring she agreed to host a UNH fundraising event at the museum. She'd said no several times before, but this time she agreed to do it, on one condition: She wanted to stand up at the gathering and tell the story of her group of friends at UNH and all the crazy and important things that happened, way back in the early days of the GSO.
Jane Harrigan was a journalism professor in Durham for 23 years and is now a book editor. She thanks her husband, Dave, for help with the legal research for this story.Return to main article