Forty years ago, the New Hampshire governor threatened to cancel state funding to the University of New Hampshire if a gay and lesbian student group was allowed to form on campus. On Tuesday, the school’s GLBT students celebrated the many advances in gay rights that have happened since then by having pancakes with Gov. Maggie Hassan.
For the first time since its inception, a sitting governor attended the President’s Commission on the Status of GLBT Issues pancake breakfast. Speaking to nearly 300 students, faculty and local activists that gathered in the Granite State Room, Hassan said she was honored and humbled to be the person to hold that distinction.
“Like most battles for equality, it has taken a long time, but it sure seems like the rest of the country is catching on to your message of inclusion,” said Hassan.
As a long-time supporter of GLBT rights and marriage equality, Hassan has been credited with helping pass New Hampshire’s same-sex marriage law as a state senator in 2009. For the first time since that bill passed, Hassan noted, there was no attempt this legislative session to roll back the law. Hassan said it was young people, like many in the room, that helped state senators uncertain about enacting same-sex marriage to fully support the bill.
“Young people reminded us of the importance of feeling accepted and included in society and what that unleashes when you accomplish it,” she said.
UNH President Mark Huddleston also acknowledged the influence of young people in advancing GLBT rights. Although polls show roughly half of all U.S. adults support same-sex marriage, 70 percent of people born after 1980 favor it. It is this acceptance of GLBT people that is helping turn the tide of public opinion, he said.
“We still have a long way to go on gay marriage and GLBTQ issues, but this last year has been a testament to what hard work can do,” said Huddleston.
Hosted by the President’s Commission on the Status of GLBT Issues Co-chairmen Cari Moorhead and Daniel Innis, the pancake breakfast celebrates the achievements GLBT activists made in the past year. The event was originally inspired by the struggles of the first UNH Gay Student Organization in the 1970s. Initially denied the right to form their group, news of their efforts brought the GLBT-rights debate into the mainstream. It also prompted then-Gov. Meldrim Thompson to threaten pulling school funding if the group was officially recognized.
During the heat of the debate, students learned of a pancake breakfast with the governor up for bid in the New Hampshire Public Television auction. Hoping that dining with Thompson would further their cause, they raised $2,000 for bidding – a sizeable sum in the 1970s. They lost the auction, but the story led to the first Commission breakfast 20 years later. The annual breakfast is now celebrating its 21st year.
One way the President’s Commission celebrates with an award ceremony. The Kidder Fund Awards, which recognize outstanding efforts advancing opportunities for those whose sexual orientation or gender identity differs from the majority in our culture, went to Associate Professor of Communication Arts Barbara Jago, Women Studies and Queer Studies graduate student Tamsin Whitehead and Alexander Loughran Lamothe, a senior in International Affairs and Family Studies.
The Pink Triangle Award, which honor leaders from the UNH community who made outstanding efforts for equity and visibility for the GLBT community, went to Associate Professor of Philosophy Paul McNamara and College of Health and Human Services senior Sara Dillingham.
With same-sex marriage cases before the Supreme Court and the attendance of a sitting governor, recognizing how far GLBT people have accomplished in the past four decades was a major theme of the event. Moorhead noted there is still work to be done in gaining acceptance for GLBT people, but it’s also important to enjoy the victories.
“You’ve been working on these issues so long, I hope you are enjoying this as much as I am,” Moorhead said.
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Written by Beth LaMontagne Hall