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

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