Skip to Main Content

UNH Gay Student Organization, 1973-1975

This guide was created by the UNH Special Collections and Archives to document the creation of the Gay Student Organization (GSO) and the subsequent controversy in the early 1970s.

Overview – The UNH Gay Student Organization

In April 1973, a group of students at the University of New Hampshire came together to create the school’s first official Gay Student Organization (GSO). Unbeknownst to them, this would be the catalyst for a long series of legal battles to protect the rights of LGBTQ students to organize and hold social functions on campus. 

The group was targeted by Governor Meldrim Thomson and William Loeb, the publisher of the Manchester Union Leader. Thomson even threatened to replace Trustee members and withhold funding from the university if the group was allowed to continue to exist on campus. 

After a series of controversies involving a GSO dance, a theater performance hosted by the group, and the distribution of LGBTQ literature, the University of  New Hampshire decided to prevent the student group from hosting any more social functions until 'definitive legal counsel' had determined the 'legality and appropriateness of scheduling social functions of the Gay Student Organization." 

The GSO decided to legally challenge this limitation on their ability to gather and host social events with help from the American Civil Liberties Union. The Board of Trustees also submitted a petition to the NH Supreme Court regarding offical recognition of the GSO by the university and the permissable scope of its activities as a recognized campus student organization. 

While it took time and multiple legal battles, it was ultimately decided and upheld that any restrictions on dances or other social functions amounted to a violation of the gay students first amendment rights and their freedom of association. This was the first time a federal court upheld the first amendment rights of a gay students organization.