In a democracy, recognition matters. Everyone wants to be seen as who they are. If they are not, then it’s impossible for them to enjoy the experience of being a full citizen. -Melissa Harris-Perry
Wayne April performed a revolutionary act. He requested a student meeting space in the MUB for the first gay student organization at UNH. It was 1972.
A long legal journey granted the gays the right to form the first gay student organization at UNH, and the GLBT Commission on campus celebrated that journey on April 11 in the Granite State Room. The celebration marked the 40th year since Wayne April took the first steps for UNH’s gay and lesbian population.
Founders of the organization visited campus for the 20th Annual GLBTQA+ Pancake Breakfast. Cris Arguedas, Class of 1975, was remembered by her classmates for working hard to educate people on campus about sexual orientations that differ from the majority. She recalls that a small group of gays and lesbians would visit fraternity houses. Many of the people living there had never consciously known a gay person. Arguedas said that her job was to “convince people not to hate us.”
The positive side of the experience was that the group was regularly invited to classrooms to speak. The downside each invitation was that it was usually the Abnormal Psychology class professor inviting them.
When the court case developed over the right for gays to form a student organization with the same university funding that other students used, they had to listen to an attorney argue that homosexuality was a mental illness that was a communicable disease.
Arguedas said, “It seemed that, for a long time, there was no progress for gays. Then, almost overnight, people are understanding that marriage is a right for all.” She said that the Stonewall Group and feminism helped guide the group. April had visited the UNH Women’s Center, and it was there that he got his idea to find a space for gays and lesbians to meet and give voice to both the issues and progress.
Ann Philbin, Class of 1976, said that Governor Meldrin Thompson’s decision to pull all university funding if the gays were granted the right to a student organization, determined the rest of the founders’ lives. They all involved themselves in work for fair and equitable treatment. Philbin said, “The horrible legal decision happened to us, but from there, we made things happen for us. We took action.” Roma Baran, ’74, said, “It’s really important that we not be complacent.”
The Co-chairs of the GLBT Commission, Daniel Innis and Cari Moorhead, presented the group with Founders Awards for pioneering the first Gay Student Organization at the University of New Hampshire as follows: Wayne April, Class of 1974; Cris Arguedas, Class of ‘75; Roma Baran, ‘74; Richard Maxfield, ’75; and Ann Philbin, ‘76.
Current student Kelsey O’Neill asked founder Richard Maxfield, ‘75, “What kept you going in spite of all the roadblocks?” He said, “We didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. We could feel clearly that injustice was being done. We knew we didn’t have to just walk away from it.”
Winners of the 2012 Pink Triangle Awards to honor leaders and heroes were presented to those who made outstanding contributions to efforts for equity and visibility for the GLBTQI community: Kelsey O’Neil, Jonathan DiTroia, Sean Moundas, and Travis Pynenburg.
Winners of the 2012 Kidder Awards to recognize outstanding efforts in fostering understanding and advancing opportunities for the GLBTQA+ community were Daniel Innis, Dean of the Whittemore School, and AJ Jeffries, UNH senior.