Out and Elected in the USA: 1974-2004

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Photographed, Researched, and Written by Ron Schlittler. Copyright (c) by Ron Schlitller, 2008. All rights reserved

Out and Elected in the USA - The First 30 Years: 1974-2004 is a survey, through black and white portraits and texts, of many of the pioneering openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals elected to public office in the U.S. in those years.

Editor's Introduction

Schlittler conceived the project early in 1998 and secured a list from the Victory Fund of all openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual people they had record of who had been elected to public office. From April 1998 through November 2004 he used travel opportunities provided by work or vacation time to meet with and photograph many of those on the list, and others. He photographed them in their homes, workplaces and communities, and gathered personal essays and conducted interviews with many of them. In some instance, he provides the text of speeches by the officials or news articles about them to add depth and scope to the project. This exhibit showcases Schlittler's remarkable historical work, and provides information on 107 elected officials, as well as José Sarria, the first openly gay person to run for public office, though he did not win.

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 assymbling 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 rlschlittler@verizon.net.

View Chronology for Out and Elected in the USA

View Index by state for Out and Elected in the USA

See also: New York Times: Richard A. Heyman Dies at 59; One of the First Openly Gay Mayors, September 17, 1994

PROTECTED ENTRY: This entry by a named creator or site administrator can be changed only by that creator and site administrators, so they are responsible for its accuracy, coverage, evidence, and clarity. Please do use this entry's Comment section at the bottom of the page to suggest improvements. Thanks.

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User said ...
13:40, 11 November 2009 (PST)
In 1977, Kenneth Sherrill was elected Democratic District Leader from New York's 69th Assembly District. This was the first time that an openly LGBT person was elected to office in New York State. He served until 1985.

The first openly gay elected official was not at the state level, but the local level in Ann Arbor, MI. There are many citations. Here is one from an Ann Arbor paper, the Michigan Daily:

"At the same time as the University was trying to improve its gay relations, the city of Ann Arbor was setting an example for gay-friendly towns across the country.

Ann Arbor issued the first "Gay Pride Week" proclamation in the nation and passed one of the broadest non-discrimination ordinances in the summer of 1972.

De Griek, who had given GLF space for its conference, and Nancy Wechsler, another University student, were both elected to the Ann Arbor City Council in 1973 and came out of the closet together in 1974 at a council meeting.

A year later, Ann Arbor voters elected Cathy Kozachenko, to the council - the first time an openly gay person had ever been elected to public office in the nation. "

Ron Schlittler here - yes, I'd learned of the folks in Ann Arbor during my research, but they were not out when elected. Thank you for the note about Kozachenko - I researched her further and edited the introduction to the exhibit to include her accomplishment.

Your section on Minnesota is missing quite a few people: - Karen Clark, elected to the House of Representatives in 1980, and still serving there. Longest serving lesbian elected official in the USA. - Scott Dibble, elected to the Senate in 2000, and still serving. - Brian Coyle, Minneapolis City Council, elected in 1983, and served until his death from AIDS in 1991. - Wally Swan, elected to Minneapolis Board of Estimate & Taxation in 1993, retired in 2004. - Rod Krueger, Minneapolis Library Board, elected in 1997, served until 2007 when the library merged with Hennepin County libraries. - Al Oertwig, St. Paul School Board, elected in 1983, resigned in 2007. - Robert Lilligren, Minneapolis City Council, elected in 2001, still serving (Council Vice President). Also Native American. - Gary Schiff, Minneapolis City Council, elected in 2001, still serving. - Scott Benson, Minneapolis City Council, elected in 2001, still serving.

lnniles said ...
16:10, 7 April 2010 (EST)
Voted for Allan Spear in Mpls in 1972 and 1976

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