Tom Brougham, California, 1987


Tom Brougham and his partner can be credited as first to conceive the idea of an employer provided Domestic Partner benefit for same-sex couples, coining the term, and then working to bring it about.

Tom Brougham

Born March 20, 1943

Peralto Community College Board

Oakland, California

84,000 constituents

Career Overview

Elected April 1987

Re-elected 1992, 1996



Interview with Tom Brougham for Out and Elected in the USA

Q: You and your partner, Barry, were the first to conceive of the notion of domestic partnership benefits and bring about a policy change. How did that happen?

A: Basically when I went to work for the City of Berkeley in early 1979 we noticed that everybody signs up for benefits, and I realized than my partner could not be a beneficiary. It got me thinking along the lines of what it really meant to have equal opportunity and equal benefits. The City of Berkeley had very recently adopted a gay rights ordinance that basically proposed equal rights in the city, and yet here was an example in which it simply didn’t function properly. So Barry and I talked about this a great deal.

Q: You hadn’t heard about this anyplace else, right?

A: No, we had not. In fact this was way early, before even any discussion of adoption rights and things of that nature. There wasn’t much discussion about relationships or family matters. There was definitely no public policy and there was no terminology. There wasn’t even a particularly clear analysis. It was very interesting in the early days when we tried to talk about this with people within the gay movement, there was very little interest, very little expectation that anybody could do anything about it. People would just kind of shrug and say, “Well, they’re married and we’re not.” And that was pretty much the end of it.

But, we persisted and began to write up something which we then took to the University of California and the City of Berkeley; both in 1979. Both of those kind of fizzled out. We sort of persisted and developed the idea, but there wasn’t very much in the way of serious consideration. We took it to the university and they just pretty much went through a charade and turned it all down. Then [Supervisor] Harry Britt picked it up in San Francisco. I took it over to a political meeting and talked to a group of people and Harry was there and he was interested in it so we talked and he was ready to go with it as an ordinance for San Francisco very quickly. He did it very, very fast, and I think was under prepared for all the controversy and upset that it would cause, but he got a lot of exposure – and he fell flat on his face. It was vetoed and quite controversial. He was ridiculed in the press. There was quite a lot of international coverage because it was considered to be the kookiest possible idea that had ever come out of San Francisco. It was really roundly trashed. The local newspaper said it went “hog wild.” They were pretty disparaging. This would be, I believe ’82. After that was over, we brought it back over to Berkeley. Even though it got badly bruised it was rally catapulted into a lot of discussion. People were really upset and angry and polarized. It went from sort of zero awareness and caring about it to all out rage against the denial of benefits. It was kind of neat. It kicked it up into high gear. We started working in Berkeley. We put on some public forums, discussions, and we invited various elected officials. We spent the next two years walking through it very, very slowly. We’d get a little bit of interest and get people to study it. They sent it to a commission and we took care of all their questions and did all the research – they kept raising doubts and worries and we would go back and – we did it for months and months and months and months. We just bored ‘em to tears with all kinds of details and studies. Every time they had a question we would answer the question in great length and detail, so eventually they were willing to recommend it and move it forward. When it first went to the city council it did not pass. The faction that was in power was the more moderate faction; they kind of pushed it around on their plate and didn’t do very much. So they kind of let it languish. They said nice things, but they didn’t do anything. Their basic stance was, “Well, if the employees what it then the unions should negotiate for it in the course of the union’s work.” And of course the unions weren’t going to do anything (laughing). There was a lot of work with the unions; it was painfully slow, a lot of them just weren’t interested.

Q: What finally moved it?

A: When I talk about us beginning to work on it in ’83, the East Bay Lesbian & Gay Democratic Club was formed about then and they picked it up as a main issue. We worked as an organization. I became political action chair. We really, really worked hard on politics – did a lot of precinct walking, we did endorsement cards, we organized, we got a big mailing list, etcetera. So we really did our homework and a lot of political work. Then, that November in ’84, there was an election and we endorsed people who pledged to vote for it. Basically, they won the election and they passed it for us. They had literally pledged they were going to do it early on, and the very first night that they came into power, they kept their word. They brought five or six very radical things forward on the very night they were inaugurated.

The interesting thing of course was the next work because it was one thing to pass it and another thing to get an insurance company of any kind to go to the next level.