Not The NH Where I Grew Up

By D. Allan Kerr

In December 1973, the governor of New Hampshire warned university administrators, “Indecency and moral filth will no longer be allowed on our campuses.”

“Either you take firm, fair and positive action to rid your campuses of socially abhorrent activities or I, as Governor, will stand solidly against the expenditure of one more cent of taxpayers’ money for your institutions,” Gov. Meldrim Thomson Jr., wrote 45 years ago this month. 

Thomson’s outrage was provoked by a dance sponsored at the University of New Hampshire by the Gay Students Organization.

Some commentators are describing 2018 as the Year of the Woman following last month’s elections, but to me the most astonishing outcome was an openly gay man winning a seat as New Hampshire’s newest U.S. congressman.

Pappas
Pappas

Christopher Pappas, the guy elected to represent the state’s First District, wasn’t even alive during the 1970s reign of Thomson. I find this highly symbolic.

Some folks reading this might be too young to remember Thomson and Manchester Union Leader publisher William Loeb, and those who are old enough may have forgotten.

But trust me – Pappas going to Washington as a New Hampshire rep is almost as historic as if Stacey Abrams had been elected governor of Georgia.

The New Hampshire of my youth was dominated politically by Thomson and Loeb, who were either right-wing whack jobs or champions of conservatism, depending on your perspective.

Thomson
Thomson

Thomson was an eccentric who would have been a Tea Party folk hero a few decades later – he never served in the military, but as governor once donned combat fatigues and flew in by helicopter to oversee the arrests of hundreds of demonstrators at Seabrook Station.

Loeb perfected the art of the grade-school insult when Donald Trump was still an apprentice at his grandmother’s family business.

Loeb is best remembered today as an unscrupulous troll who used his newspaper to viciously attack his enemies and provide blatant propaganda to those he supported. He referred to President Gerald Ford as “Jerry the Jerk” and New York Democrat Bella Abzug as a “pot-bellied, porcine-featured Congresswoman.” He even branded legendary TV newswoman Barbara Walters “a hussy.”

Loeb and Thomson were political twins conjoined where their hearts should have been.

Loeb
Loeb

In a November 1973 Union Leader editorial, Loeb took exception to students at Keene State College who had signed a petition supporting the UNH Gay Students Organization. In a front-page column titled “Something Rotten at Keene,” he warned of “terrible and vicious crimes committed by homosexuals driven by their diseased makeup.”

Yeah, he wrote that. And he didn’t stop there. In bold capital letters, Loeb continued:

“IT WOULD SEEM THAT A REAL EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM WOULD BE VERY MUCH IN ORDER AT KEENE TO EXPLAIN TO THESE MISGUIDED INDIVIDUALS THE ENORMITY OF THE EVIL THEY ARE EMBRACING AND THE FOOLISHNESS OF THEIR ACT IN SIGNING THE PETITIONS.”

He concluded by saying the effort “raises the question in the minds of many people in New Hampshire as to how many practicing homosexuals there are on the faculty and in the student body at Keene State College.”

That same year, the paper ran front-page headlines such as “Boot Out the Pansies.” Eventually the Gay Students Organization had to go to court to defend its right to exist – and won.

Remember, this wasn’t the Dark Ages or the 1800s. This was all within our lifetimes, or least those of our parents.

Hell, just a few years ago I wrote what seemed to me very basic common-sense arguments regarding gay rights/marriage equality, only to have otherwise sane people swear such action would destroy the institution of marriage in America.

And now, how fitting to have a hometown boy from Manchester break the barrier.

The congressional race between Pappas and Republican Eddie Edwards would have been historic either way – had Pappas lost, Edwards would have been the first African-American to represent the Granite State in Washington. I can only imagine the convulsions Thomson and Loeb would have suffered if they’d lived to see this race. (Loeb died in 1981, Thomson in 2001.)

Edwards
Edwards

During the campaign, Edwards – an ex-police chief and former head of New Hampshire’s liquor enforcement division – said he thought it would be a “disservice” to believe people are special because of their race, gender or sexual orientation.

“I’m not special because I’m black. Chris is not special because he’s gay. You’re not special because you’re a woman,” Edwards said. “We’re special because of what we give back to our communities, our nation, and our families.”

I understand the point Edwards was trying to make, but respectfully disagree.

Yeah, Pappas needs other qualities besides being gay to represent his constituents, and he has them. He helped run a small family business, he served two terms in the legislature and three terms on the Executive Council. I’ve never met the guy but he seems smart and reasonable and downright decent.

But I also believe there are gay kids in New Hampshire and elsewhere inspired by what he’s achieved in a region which, quite frankly, was seen as something of a cultural backwater by a lot of folks.

Pappas played down the significance of his sexual preference during the campaign but also added:

“I truly believe that we’re all in this together and that by telling your own story, you can ensure that other people are accepted in their communities and can live their truth and pursue a healthy and successful life.”

Apparently this can even happen in the Granite State – finally.

D. Allan Kerr sincerely wishes Thomson and Loeb were alive today to see their hate vanquished.

(Dec. 1, 2018)

Follow, connect, empathize, and harass D. Allan Kerr on Twitter @Sloth_Blog

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