Gerry E. Studds, Massachusetts, 1984
Gerry E. Studds (D)
Born May 12, 1937
Died October 14, 2006
U.S. House of Representatives, 10th District
Elected November 1972
Re-elected 1974, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1982
Outed in 1983
Re-elected in 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994
Interview with Gerry E. Studds for Out and Elected in the USA
Q: What was it like for you being a Congressman?
A: It was very different when I left than when I arrived. When I arrived, it was fun in many ways because you could get a lot done. It was a very collegial atmosphere. It wasn’t as bitterly partisan and negative. And the issues seemed at least clearer, simpler. With the question of the war in Viet Nam you were on one side or the other – you were convinced that your side was the right side – you could see it as relatively black and white. Same as for civil rights for people of color. Voting rights and things like that. There are very few issues these days that look as black and white. They are much more complex; there are many more shades of gray.
Campaigning has become horribly negative and is consultant and poll driven. The balancing act you always have to do is the judgment call as to whether the price, the cost of seeking and serving in public elective office - which is financial, emotional, physical, psychological, every sense of the word “cost” – whether that is outweighed on the other side by what you can accomplish. Whether it makes it worth while or not. It was clearly the case when I first ran that the pluses outweighed the minuses by far. We were trying to end a war, we had a major role in doing that – and these days it’s awfully hard to justify the personal and family sacrifices. It’s harder to now.
Q: Tell me about the circumstances of your outing.
A: It was in the context of scandal. That was horrible. It was the famous “Page Scandal.” There was a big investigation of allegations of misconduct with pages and they nailed one heterosexual and balanced it off with one gay member. The allegations were in fact ten years old – they were back in 1973 – and I was reprimanded by the House.
Q: How did you handle that?
A: Well, I came home. I had open meetings as I’d always had with my constituents and told them that it was pretty dumb, but that it was nobody’s business. There was nothing that could be alleged that was wrong except for bad judgment. I didn’t know what to expect when I was first an openly gay member – I had no idea if people would pull away or what, but as it turns out, almost immediately, if anything my relationships with my peers – which is the question I got asked at the time most often by the press, “Well, how are they now that they know you are gay?” – if anything, they were better. Partly I think because I was more fun to be with. When you are truly able to be yourself, you are more relaxed and you have a better sense of humor and you are just plane better company than when you’re scared to death and hiding in the closet.
Q: In earlier years, people entered office while closeted and now that is changing. Any thoughts on that?
A: It is an extraordinary indication of the change. I often wonder which distance is greater – how far we have come or how far we have to go. They are both enormous.
Q: How did people deal with Dean? What was it like having a man as a partner or spouse while you were in Congress?
A: We were together for the last six years of my time there. We did everything from black tie events to family picnics at the White House, to major social events with members of Congress and their families and spouses. There was never any question raised. He even had a spousal identification card and a spousal pin, which allowed him entrance to the House and to the galleries of the House. It’s another indication of change – it would have been unthinkable when I first got to Congress. Unheard of. Nobody would have known what we were talking about. We got to the point where it was taken for granted. The invitations to social events at the White House came not to Mr. & Mrs., which they would have come 30 years ago, but to both of us by name as a couple. When you are a member of Congress, rightly or wrongly, you are treated with a certain amount of respect. And you demand it for your partner or spouse, and you have it.