Ron Schlittler's Introduction
Not so long ago it seemed improbable if not impossible that two words might exist side by side in the same sentance - "out" and "elected." It was this striking juxtaposition that captured my imagination and curiosity, and inspired Out and Elected in the USA.
A statement I ran across in the course of assembling this project captures the significance of the accomplishment of these individuals: “A critical marker of a maligned class of people’s Arrival in a Democratic society is the ascendance of its members to public office.”
In November, 1974, something extraordinary happened. Openly lesbian Elaine Noble made international news when she Arrived at the Massachusetts state legislature. Kathy Kozachenko had, in fact, become the first openly homosexual person to be elected to public office in the U.S. in January of that year when she was elected to the City Council in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was a rather muted and largely unnoticed event compared with Noble's victory. Noble had endured death threats, bullets through the windows of her campaign headquarters, intimidation of her campaign staff and ugly hostility from her new colleagues in the State House. But, between Kozachenko's comparatively quiet accomplishment in community politics and Noble's high profile ascension to state office, their ground breaking successes turned a page in America's political history.
Since then, many hundreds more openly lesbian, gay and bisexual - and a few transgendered - Americans have been elected to serve in nearly every level of local, state and national public office. Their numbers are a tiny fraction of the approximately 500,000 elected offices in the United States. But their visibility and impact on policies about, and perceptions of, LGBT people has been transformative - all as they have focused on the issues of primary concern to their constituents from pot holes to international policy.
The collection does not attempt to serve as a comprehensive catalog of everyone who ever was elected while being out of the closet during the time frame covered. And it includes no one who serves, or has served, while remaining in the closet. The aim was to capture a broad and diverse cross-cut of the first 30 years of the courageous and community-minded people who have been, and in many cases still are, a part of this recent and inspiring history, and to convey that history through their images and personal stories.
For information on a touring exhibit version of the collection, contact Ron Schlittler at firstname.lastname@example.org.