• Susannah Colt


One of the reasons I subscribe to the Concord Monitor is the comics page. I read all the news, which is my appetizer and main course, before I get to the best part – the dessert. I need the emotional release when I chuckle at the antics of Snoopy, Linus, Lucy and Charlie Brown and guffaw at the irreverence of Pearls Before Swine.

My favorite is For Better or For Worse. The comic strip by Lynn Johnston first appeared in syndication in 1979 and ran until 2008. It chronicles the lives of the Patterson family and their friends in a fictional suburb of Toronto, Ontario. In 2010, Johnston began to rerun the original strip with some minor modifications to update it to modern times.

Saturday’s (3/26) For Better or For Worse strip threw me back in time to when it first appeared on March 27, 1993. For those who do not follow the strip, Mike Patterson has a friend named Lawrence. He is an only child, and his mother is bemoaning the fact that Lawrence is getting older, which means she’ll be facing the prospect of an empty nest. She decides on a whim to get a puppy. She loves having a puppy around and begins to imagine a time when Lawrence will get married and have children. Lawrence and Mike are talking about that prospect when Lawrence explains to Mike that he’s never getting married or having children. Mike doesn’t understand what Lawrence is saying and asks, innocently, “What if you, you know – fall in love?” Lawrence answers, “I have fallen in love. But it’s not with a girl.” The next three weeks of the strip chronicles the story of Lawrence coming out to his family and friends.

I will be very interested to see if Johnston modifies the story at all, because the first time around was pure literary genius. As a result of that storyline, Johnston was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for cartooning in 1994.

On March 26, 1993, The Union Leader published a front-page editorial by its publisher Nackey Loeb entitled “Comic Propaganda.” She announced that the comic strip would be absent for a few weeks because the author has “now decided to join the political propaganda ranks and use her strip to promote homosexuality as a normal, acceptable morally justified lifestyle.”

The Portsmouth Herald’s editor, David Solomon, wrote an editorial announcing that the Herald would be running the comic strip. Having read the entire three-week storyline, he found that it “portrays a painful reality with sensitivity, emotion and good taste. There is no political proselytizing, no waving of the gay rights banner.”

On April 4, 1993, the Seacoast Times ran an editorial cartoon by Mike Marland satirizing the decision by Loeb to remove the comic strip.

At the same time the comic strip hit the paper, I was involved with a group of LGBT activists attempting to convince the City of Portsmouth to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance. We were lobbying the councilors and getting ready for the public hearing on our petition.

I was also a practicing attorney at a firm that was handling a personal legal matter for Mrs. Loeb for the past year or so. When opposing counsel called me an “incompetent lawyer,” she countered by telling me she thought I was “the best incompetent lawyer she knew.” She proved her confidence in me when she invited me to join the board of her non-profit therapeutic riding center.

When I saw her editorial in the paper, I was personally hurt and saddened. The civil rights fight in Portsmouth was gaining traction and publicity and I was terrified that she would find out I was gay and would fire me, so I decided I needed to come out to her. I screwed up my courage and called to make an appointment to meet with her in person. Even though she was frail and wheelchair bound due to an automobile accident, she was a titan in the publishing world and I was totally intimidated by her. My heart was beating out of my chest when I sat down in her home office and began to speak. I could not hold back the tears as I explained how hurt I was by her editorial and decision to pull the comic strip. She immediately morphed from a scary titan to a motherly figure and made me feel comfortable for the rest of our meeting. I was overjoyed and relieved and from then on I did not have to hide that part of me.

The Portsmouth City Council declined to pass our anti-discrimination ordinance by a 5-4 vote and two days later Mrs. Loeb wrote me a letter noting that “the first skirmish in Portsmouth is over with, but I know you well enough to know that it will not be the last one.” She thanked me for meeting with her and wrote, “That took a lot of character and a lot of courage on your part. We may not agree on everything but I have tremendous respect for you as an individual.”

Since 1993, the LGBT community has won significant civil rights protections through legislatures and courts, but despite that there is still resistance. The current wave of anti-transgender legislation in New Hampshire and around the country feels like a resurgence of the battles we had already won. The current target is our children, who are not being allowed to come out, like Lawrence from For Better or For Worse, and be their true selves. It is tragic that people feel the need to erect hurdles and barriers to make their road more complicated, all in the name of moral values.

For those young souls and their family and friends, I encourage them challenge the naysayers, be yourself so people can see your true character and courage, and respect will follow.

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