Tim Mains, New York, 1985


Tim Mains was the first openly homosexual person elected to public office in New York.

Tim O. Mains (D)

Born August 4, 1948

Councilmember At-Large

Rochester, New York

218,000 constituents

Career Overview

Elected November 1985

Re-elected 1989, 1993, 1997



From the office of Tim Mains


When Tim Mains began his career in public education, he believed that the word “gay” and “teacher” didn’t belong in the same sentence, let alone the same classroom. He assumed that he would keep his private life and his professional life strictly separated. After all, such beliefs and practices were common in 1971, when Mains graduated from Ball State University and left his home in Indiana to teach high school social studies in a suburb of Rochester, New York. That belief, however, soon changed. During his second year of employment (and without the protection of tenure) Tim invited 5 guest speakers to his classes from the Gay Liberation Front at the University of Rochester. (“It wasn’t even my idea,” he confesses; “my students requested it.”) The tumultuous results locked him in conflict with his employer for the next year. By the end of his battle, he kept his job but developed some very different attitudes.

“Throughout the fight, the district kept telling the union that many people had complained,” Mains explained recently. “In the end, it turned out that the only complaints came from parents of students who had not heard the speakers. “ It was as if those students with no reality to report, went home and reported their fantasies. It was the fantasies (false accusations about the speakers’ conduct) that led to the complaints. Not one parent of a student who had heard the speakers was among the dissatisfied. “I was overwhelmed by the power of the message,” Mains explains, “visibility and reality had made a powerful and demonstrable difference.” Mains’s gay activism was born.

Tim joined the campus organization that had supplied his speakers, and later joined others to found a separate community-based group – The Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley (GAGV). He would later serve as GAGV President. He applied his journalistic skills, developed from work on his college’s daily newspaper, to refine the quality and expand he readership of Rochester’s monthly gay newspaper – The Empty Closet. He took leadership positions in the New Your State Coalition of Gay Organizations (NYSCGO) and joined a number of rabble rousers, confronting candidates, challenging the media, and securing political attention for Rochester’s burgeoning gay and lesbian movement.

Anyone in the school district who still wondered about him had their suspicions confirmed when Tim was quoted as a GAGV Board member in the local daily newspaper in 1975. He would be rewarded for his activism in 1977 with an appointment to his county’s Human Relations Commission.

Activism came naturally to Mains, and so did politics. Tim was participating in peace marches while in college in the late 1960’s and described himself as a feminist several years before he would describe himself as a gay activist. He had been ringing doorbells for candidates before he was barely tall enough to reach them. His father, a liberal democrat, had twice run for (but lost) political office, and campaigned and raised funds for Hoosier democratic candidates. Tim’s dad attended the 1960 Democratic Convention that nominated John Kennedy, and the entire family attended Kennedy’s inauguration. In 1968, Tim would play a key role in Bobby Kennedy’s presidential primary win in Indiana, just weeks before the younger Kennedy was assassinated.

By the time Tim was persuaded to run for office himself, there was no question that he would be open about his sexual orientation. Even though he was prompted to run on the basis of much broader issues, Tim’s sexuality became the focal point in that campaign. Despite securing the Democratic Party’s endorsement, and the endorsement of every major daily and weekly newspaper in town, Mains won that first election by only 11 votes out of more than 38,000 cast. With that victory he became New York State’s first openly-gay elected official.

Today after 15 years, Mains is the most senior member of his Council. He chairs its most powerful committee – Jobs, Finance and Governance. And he wins his elections to recurring four year terms with ease. But he is still an activist, looking for ways to promote our visibility and advance our agenda. He has secured domestic partnership benefits and registry in Rochester and expects to help strengthen the city’s anti-discrimination policies by requiring private employers and landlords to do what the City of Rochester has done since 1983 – bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. He remains employed by the school district he shook up nearly 30 years ago. He's found a way to integrate "gay" and "teacher", but he now works in a classroom that has no boundaries.