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. The guide gives an overview of the events related to the GSO and provides a list of relevant materials located in the university archives.
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On Wednesday, May 10, the Student Organization Committee officially recognized the GSO as a legitimate student group on campus.
Following the approval of the Student Organization Committee, the UNH Board of Trustees met on May 19, 1973 and voted to approve a statement from Vice Provost for Student Affairs Richard F. Stevens.
The statement from Stevens outlined the university’s policies on recognizing campus groups and declared that neither the GSO's expressed purpose nor official university recognition of it were in violation of state or federal law. The statement also makes clear that the GSO, like all student organizations, would not be supported by tax dollars.
In response to the Board’s approval, Governor Meldrim Thomson called for the resignation of all Trustees who voted to back the Student Organization Committee in its recognition of the GSO and the Manchester Union Leader published a front-page editorial titled, "Boot Out the Pansies" by New Hampshire Sunday News Editor-in-Chief B.J. McQuaid.
The controversy surrounding the Gay Student Organization brewed quietly until Friday, November 9, 1973, when the group held their first dance in the Strafford Room of the Memorial Union Building. The dance revitalized opposition to the group from Governor Thomson, who wrote a letter expressing his 'disgust', and the Union Leader, who published articles objecting to the presence of Holly Woodlawn, a transgender performer from Boston who had been asked to play music at the event.
Following the backlash, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees issued a directive on November 17 that prevented the GSO 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 Gay Student Organization solicited help from the American Civil Liberties Union and decided to bring the Board of Trustees to Court over their decision to limit the social functions of the group. The Board of Trustees also submitted a petition to the NH Supreme Court regarding recognition of the GSO and the permissible scope of its activities as a recognized student organization.
The GSO still planned to host a performance of the play "Coming Out" by a queer Boston performance group on December 7, 1973 (though they could no longer hold a reception afterwards due to the Board's limitations on their activities). During this performance, a publication called "Fag Rag Six" was handed out to attendees – though it is disputed whether GSO members or the performers from Boston distributed the newsletter.
This publication evoked a strong reaction from opponents of the GSO, who labeled it 'obscene'. Thomson threatened to veto state funds for the university unless the organization and its members were removed from campus. UNH President Thomas Bonner also issued a statement publicly denouncing the publication and announcing an internal investigation into the matter.
On January 16, 1974, Judge Hugh Bownes ruled that the university could not withdraw recognition from the GSO or limit the groups access to university facilities. This decision meant that the GSO could hold social functions, just like any other student organization on campus. The UNH Board of Trustees decided to appeal the decision under pressure from Governor Thomson, who said that he would try to prevent any budget allocation for the university if the GSO issue was not 'resolved'.
The GSO raised funds to bid on a pancake breakfast with Governor Thomson and his wife that was being auctioned off at the New Hampshire Network's Country Auction.
The group lost the bid under suspicious circumstances and members of the GSO claim that the bidding was fixed. The GSO put in a higher bid than the one that won, but was told that it was sumbitted too late despite the fact that the network's Director of Development David Griffith had ended the bidding without warning.
On January 3, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit Frank M. Coffin upheld a year-old decision by U.S. District Court Judge Hugh W. Bownes that ordered the university to not interfere with GSO activites. Judge Coffin wrote 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.