Married and gay in Somersworth
Coty Donohue, 27, and Matt Gerding, 28, are teachers living here in the Hilltop City.
They are also married to each other.
The two men, who married in June 2017, sing Somersworth's praises, saying it is one of the most welcoming places they've ever lived.
Donohue first came to Somersworth as a 20-something renter because it was cheaper than other communities. He moved back to Dover, but always seemed to find his way back to Somersworth. Eventually, something unexpected happened. He fell in love with Somersworth.
"There's a strong sense of community and once you get a little bit involved in the city, you get pulled in. Once you reach out a little bit, you feel right at home and people are so welcoming and they want you to be a part of the cool things they are doing to move the city forward," Donohue said.
Donohue said a lot of cities and towns feel like exclusive clubs where it takes years to break into the circle. Not Somersworth. If you are interested in helping and want to volunteer, you are welcomed right away, said Donohue, who won the Ward 5 City Council seat to fill a 14-month vacancy. "To be able to do that when I was 21 as a city councilor — I feel like that just goes to show what this city is open to," Donohue said.
Gerding agrees. "People in this town will just hand you a project if you show any sort of interest in running with it," Gerding said. He grew up in Concord, went to the University of New Hampshire and lived in a variety of Seacoast communities since then, including Newmarket, Stratham, Portsmouth and Dover. But he never felt the sense of community he feels living in Somersworth.
"Here, it's like I feel like anytime I walk down the street, you run into someone you know and they talk to you about something that's going on. It's not like it's necessarily town gossip, but it's like town projects and town improvements and it's like, 'This is happening — oh my gosh, who's running that or what's going on with that project?' ... It's almost like freaky that it works so smoothly, but it really does," said Gerding, a sixth-grade math and science teacher, who also does after-school programs at the middle school.
Neither Gerding nor Donohue hedges when students ask questions about their relationship. "I certainly don't deflect it. I don't think I just come right out and say 'Hey everyone ...," Gerding said. But, they have found that their sexuality is simply a non-issue for students.
Economic inequality — not a person's sexuality — is more of an issue at school, Gerding and Donohue said. As a community, Somersworth has big disparities in family income.
"Out of a classroom of students, a handful of them might be homeless while a handful of them might be living in beautiful homes," Gerding said.
Occasionally that leads to the my-sneakers-are-better-than-your-sneakers kind of remarks, but those students are quickly set straight, the teachers said. Both teachers credit the school system, and Somersworth Middle School Principal and city Mayor Dana Hilliard for teaching inclusiveness in all areas of life.
Gerding said the team building Hilliard does at the school where adult professionals and students are mixed together in advisory groups helps to build a sense of community and break down barriers.
Donohue agreed. "No matter what religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality you are: It's almost like this protective factor in a way — like we're not going to let anything happen to anyone in our town. We want the story about our town to be told in a way that we see it — in a positive light," he said.