On April 2, 1974, forty-three years ago, University of Michigan student and Human Rights Party candidate Kathy Kozachenko was elected to the city council of Ann Arbor, Michigan, making her the first openly gay or lesbian person to run successfully for political office in the United States. Notably, Kozachenko was not the first gay or lesbian person to serve openly in public office; in fact, her predecessors on Ann Arbor’s city council, Nancy Weschler and Jerry DeGrieck, came out during their first and only terms, making them the first openly queer officeholders in the United States. (To be clear: the distinction is that Kozachenko was openly gay as a candidate, whereas Weschler and DeGrieck did not come out until after their elections.)
After serving one term, Kozachenko stepped out of the public eye, though not out of the activist life entirely. After meeting her life partner, Mary Ann Geiger, and having a son, Kozachenko retreated more fully into private life and her place in queer history went virtually ignored for decades.
In “The First Openly Gay Person to Win an Election in America Was Not Harvey Milk,” a 2015 piece for Bloomberg politics, Steve Friess explored the factors that contributed to Kozachenko’s diminished place in the history of gay liberation: geography, misogyny, timing, messaging. When asked why the groundbreaking gay journalist Randy Shilts referred to Harvey Milk as “the first openly gay elected official in the nation,” for example, Kozachenko “figures there was little fuss at the time because it was just liberal, small-city Ann Arbor.”
“I don’t think I was brave,” Kozachenko told Friess, “because I was in a college town where it was cool to be who I was. On the other hand, I stepped up and did what I felt needed to be done at the time. Maybe that’s the whole story, that ordinary people can do something that then other people later can look back on and feel really good that they did this.” #HavePrideInHistory #KathyKozachenko (at Ann Arbor, Michigan)
(Reposted from LGBT HISTORY ARCHIVES IG: @lgbt_history.)
Is it weird for me to think this is a cool coincidence one day after I write about a much more recent openly gay person at the University of Michigan?