LGBTQ Political Pioneer Joe Herzenberg

 “What was hope yesterday morning is now life for me”

Thanks to “The State of Things” on WUNC (North Carolina Public Radio) for inspiring today’s post with their conversation (also on Twitter) about the experiences of LGBTQ elected officials in North Carolina.

Joe Herzenberg was the first openly gay elected official in North Carolina in 1987. He served on the Chapel Hill Town Council until 1993, when it was revealed that he had not paid state income tax for the previous 14 years. His personal and political papers are held at the Southern Historical Collection (#5367); in addition to correspondence and photographs, the collection includes around 80 diaries written between 1954 to 2006.

His diary from when he was elected in the fall of 1987 (excerpts and images of which are included below) shows the excitement, emotional strain, and tedium of campaigning. Most entries include routine logs about his meals, reading list, and people he saw. Notes about significant personal and political events are written as casually as the mundane, making them both easy to overlook and all the more wonderful when found.

Herzenberg’s entry for October 28 is characteristically understated: “Ate at the Waffle Shop. Did various campaign tasks. Put up my house as bond to get Dale McKinley and five other anti-CIA demonstrators out of jail.”

He also participated in the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights and “walk[ed] around the giant quilt of names of AIDS victims.” The inaugural display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt was on October 11, 1987; it was “giant,” composed of 1,920 panels that covered a space larger than a football field.

In November 2000, Herzenberg contributed an oral history (K-0196) to a Southern Oral History Project collection called Southern Communities: Listening for a Change: History of Gay Men and Transgender People in the South. The audio and transcript of the interview are available online.

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Click on any of the images below to view the full size (some include a transcription). A linked arrow at the bottom of each full-size image will allow you to view the next image in the sequence without coming back to this page.

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