Paul Tosi: 'The Direction of My Life Was Changed Forever'
Paul Tosi reunites with Wayne April, a fellow University of New Hampshire alumnus who brought the first Gay Student Organization to the university's campus. Tosi speaks with PBS about his reunion with April and explains how their time working together at UNH helped him on his own journey of self-discovery.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the interviewee. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
PBS: Following your reunion, Wayne says, “If you do what you think is right, then everything else will fall in place.” This is similar to a comment you made in a conversation with your father when you were student body president. How did you find the courage to do what you thought was right in the face of opposition? And what helps you now?
Paul Tosi: It is like what my father had said to me in an unexpected phone call while I was working on a speech I would deliver to the University Trustees in support of the GSO. The phone rang, I lifted the handset and said hello and I was stunned to hear the voice on the other end of the phone was my father. I loved my father dearly and I have always considered him to be the greatest man I ever met in my life, but Dad had never called me.
"He ended the call by telling me that he, my mother and the family supported me 100 percent."
Dad told me that at work that afternoon (he was the Composing Room Foreman at the Portsmouth Herald, our local daily newspaper), Editor Ray Brighton had come out to the composing room and asked him to proofread his editorial. Dad usually gave these to the proofreaders but on this day Mr. Brighton insisted that he proofread it. Ray’s editorial was in support of the university’s position on the GSO and contained a passage about my involvement. Ray knew that my Dad would be concerned about me. He told Dad that he was proud of the stand that I had taken and that as more meetings approached it would be important for me to get the same support that I was offering the GSO, hence the phone call.
We talked about the GSO issue and he asked me about my stand and the speeches that I had and would give on the subject. I told him that there was no doubt in my mind that supporting this organization was the right thing to do. I explained that the 1st and 14th amendments to the constitution backed this organization’s right to exist. When all was said and done it was a simple matter of Civil Rights for all Americans and more importantly it was the right thing to do. Dad told me he was proud of the work that I was doing and that if I followed that path in the future I would always do the right thing, not only for others but for myself as well. He ended the call by telling me that he, my mother and the family supported me 100 percent. As I hung up the phone there were tears in my eyes as I realized that his words pertained to more than the issue at hand for the university but spoke directly to the issue that had begun to rise inside me.
My family has always been a source of strength in my life – not only my parents and sisters but also my grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews. At this stage in my life I was lucky enough to cross paths with Wayne April and other members of the GSO.
"These young men and women showed me that I could accomplish great things in life while still being true to the person I was beginning to realize I was."
These young men and women showed me that I could accomplish great things in life while still being true to the person I was beginning to realize I was. As I embarked on this unexpected chapter of my life I received unconditional support from my family as well as the students of the University of New Hampshire.
Throughout my life I have been able to draw on the support of family and friends. In 1981 I met Joseph LaRosa and I knew that I was destined to spend the rest of my life with this man. Although we were not able to marry until 2008, Joe was immediately accepted into my family and I into his. We were both blessed with totally supportive families. Today we have been together for almost 36 years and our families and friends are more important than ever.
PBS: What did it mean to you to be able to reunite with Wayne after all these years?
Paul: Since coming out in 1974 I have been fortunate to be involved in a variety of causes, including the battle against AIDS. Over the years I have had the privilege of meeting a variety of men and women who like me all have a story to tell. The most difficult stories to hear involve men and women who took a path of repressing their sexual identity and entering heterosexual marriages that ended badly. Granted in some instances these relationships ended happily and the parties remained friends for life, but all too often spouses, and children were torn apart.
As time went on I realized that because I met Wayne April my eyes were opened, and the direction of my life was changed forever. If it had not been for this interaction I most likely would have continued to repress my sexuality and possibly negatively impacted people I loved. As my time at UNH ended in 1974 and I came out to those closest to me I saw the pain I inflicted on them. Fortunately for me the love and support that I have received from these friends and family has always remained strong. Connecting with Wayne was so important to me simply to say thank you. I knew that Wayne was aware that the organization he started in 1973 has helped thousands of students of UNH and families throughout the state. What I wanted to share with him was how important his impact was in my life. I wanted him to know that his actions directly impacted my life for the better.
Meeting Wayne at this stage of my life was more than I expected. I was able to let Wayne know that much of what I have accomplished in my life is connected to meeting and working with him. I was able to have him meet Joe and let him know that I am convinced that without my interaction with him I probably would have never met Joe and my life would have been changed dramatically.
PBS: As the student body president who helped lead the efforts toward rewriting the University of New Hampshire’s constitution, you made a lasting impact on an entire university and the LGBT movement. How does it feel knowing you were able to be part of history in this way?
"Today the campus not only welcomes women and men from around the country and in fact around the world regardless of their race, color, creed, ethnicity and sexual orientation, but is also prepared to support them in becoming an integral part of a very vibrant campus community."
Paul: I am in awe of what has developed at the University of New Hampshire. At a luncheon with students and faculty of the UNH Multicultural Student Organization, the evolution of the Gay Student Organization, I was overwhelmed at what has been accomplished. I am proud of UNH and the State of New Hampshire.
Forty-four years ago, the Governor of New Hampshire wanted to arrest what he called the “sexual deviants and filth” at the Durham campus. The statewide newspaper called for “the Pansies to be booted off the campus.” Today the campus not only welcomes women and men from around the country and in fact around the world regardless of their race, color, creed, ethnicity and sexual orientation, but is also prepared to support them in becoming an integral part of a very vibrant campus community.
I am indeed humbled that the Gay Student Organization, led by my friend Wayne April and in small part the support that I was able to offer through words and actions, has resulted in a campus community and a state where our country’s great constitution is alive and well and “All women and men are created equal”!
PBS: Now that you’ve reunited, what’s next for you and Wayne?
Paul: I hope that Wayne and I can stay in touch and reunite in Durham in the very near future. I would love to be involved with any effort to spread the word of what has been accomplished at UNH and to work with students there and anywhere in the country to continue this great work.
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