Campaign flyer from Joe’s first Chapel Hill Town Council race, 1979

About Joe

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Chapel Hill, N.C., United States
Joe Herzenberg was born June 25, 1941, to Morris & Marjorie Herzenberg. His father owned the town pharmacy in Franklin, N.J., where Joe grew up. After he graduated from Yale University in 1964, Joe went to Mississippi to register voters for Freedom Summer. He joined the faculty of historically black Tougaloo College, where he was appointed chair of the history department. Joe arrived in Chapel Hill in 1969 to enroll as a graduate student in history at the University of North Carolina, and, along with his partner Lightning Brown, soon immersed himself in local, state, and national politics. Although Joe’s first campaign for the Chapel Hill Town Council in 1979 was unsuccessful, he was appointed to the Council to fill a vacant seat and served until 1981. In 1987, he was elected to the Council, becoming the former Confederacy's first openly gay elected official. Joe died surrounded by friends on October 28, 2007. He was 66 years old.

Sunday, September 1, 1985

"Gay-Baiting in Southern Politics," Southern Exposure, Sept/Oct 1985

Southern Exposure, Issue 13, Sept/Oct 1985.

By Joe Herzenberg

After being personally slimed by the hateful tactics of Jesse Helms' political machine during the 1984 Hunt-Helms Senate race, Joe wrote this article for Southern Exposure magazine's Fall 1985 issue. He cast light on how gay-baiting was a tactic used all over the South by the Republican Party in recent elections to scare up votes for its backwards, right-wing candidates.

Joe's article doesn't touch on his and Lightning Brown's own history as the most prominent targets attacked by gay bigots in North Carolina during 1984. He left that to his fellow gay activist Mab Segrest, who wrote a companion piece in the same issue titled "Anatomy of An Election."

"Anatomy of An Election," Southern Exposure, Sept/Oct 1985

Southern Exposure, Issue 13, Sept/Oct 1985.

By Mab Segrest

This article by gay activist and writer Mab Segrest appeared in Southern Exposure magazine's Fall 1985 issue. It provides a comprehensive look at how the Helms machine used shameful hate mongering against Joe, Lightning Brown, and the rest of North Carolina's gay and lesbian community to eke out Jesse's narrow 1984 re-election.

The inset of the article's second page is a reprint of a story that appeared in The Landmark, a virulently anti-gay publication printed in Chatham County, in June 1984, titled "Faggots Dominate Fourth Congressional District Convention." It was at this convention that Joe was elected as an openly gay Mondale delegate to the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.

Sadly, this article is typical of the scurrilous bile that The Landmark published two or three times a month throughout 1984. It was distributed in regular editions of tens of thousands of free copies all over North Carolina, and its press run increased dramatically in the weeks leading up to Election Day. Every word of this hate-filled propaganda tool passing as a "newspaper" dripped with bigotry and prejudice.

"The faggots worked the crowd like maggots in a manure pile. They had their ducks in a row for the second time and the so-called Gay Rights resolution passed."

- The Landmark, June 7, 1984

The paper's homophobic publisher, Bob Windsor of Chapel Hill, was a cog in the machine of right-wing Helms backers. According to, Windsor was being used by the political organization of extremist Lyndon LaRouche to spread anti-gay filth around the state and help ensure Helms’ re-election.

Former LaRouche security staffer Charles Tate "says he was told in early 1984 that work would be done on Helms's behalf. This was no surprise to Tate: he knew the security staff had been in touch with a top Helms aide for several years…Security staffers discussed sending an infiltrator into the Hunt campaign, but decided they could do the job best through undercover phone calls."

Posing as reporters for the black and gay press, LaRouche staffers made and taped phone calls to gay activists and civil rights leaders around the country who were backing Hunt. Articles based on distorted excerpts from the phone calls were then published in issues of The Landmark.

"The idea was to show that Hunt was getting substantial local and national support from constituencies disliked by many conservative Democrats…At least some of the tapes used by The Landmark came from LaRouche's security staff.

In early March 1984, a LaRouchian phoned Virginia Apuzzo, director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, pretending to be a news reporter. Charles Tate says he heard the call being made and "saw the tape recorder running." A transcript of Apuzzo’s remarks appeared in the March 29 issue of The Landmark, which also included excerpts from a phone conversation with Lightning Brown, a gay activist in Chapel Hill.

Brown says he received two calls. The first was from Grant Duay, a supposed reporter for a gay weekly, the New York City News. Brown said that Duay "asked about my fund raising for Hunt. The details ended up in The Landmark right away—it was frightening." Duay was in fact a notorious LaRouche operative who had previously used the New York City News as his cover for interviewing and taping political opponents of LaRouche. (In 1986 Duay would be arrested in Manhattan as part of a homosexual child pornography ring.)

Brown's second call was from the black LaRouchian. "I told him I felt sorry for the publisher of The Landmark and that I had prayed for him," said Brown, who is a Quaker. "My remark later appeared in The Landmark. It was supposed to prove I was a devil worshipper."

Landmark publisher Windsor was in close contact with the LaRouchians throughout that spring. He accompanied Tom Allred, Hunt's LaRouchian opponent in the Democratic primary, on a trip to Raleigh. "We toured the legislature and I introduced him to Liston Ramsey, speaker of the house, and many other people,” Windsor wrote in a front-page article about Allred.

In a 1987 phone interview Windsor said he had also attended a meeting held to recruit North Carolina conservatives to run on the LaRouche slate, Windsor claimed that a number of his conservative friends had contributed money to the NDPC (National Democratic Policy Committee – one of LaRouche’s national political organizations), including one $50,000 contribution.

- LaRouche and the New American Fascism, by Dennis King, Chapter 15 - LaRouche and the Reagan Revolution, from"

Besides running made-up stories that slandered Joe and Lightning in every way possible, including accusations that they had started a Chapel Hill NAMBLA (North American Man-Boy Love Association) chapter and were secretly "porno kings," The Landmark also published their home addresses and did everything possible to incite violence against the two of them.

No wonder, as Segrest recounts in her article, that "Brown and Herzenberg were subjected to more than a dozen separate incidents of intimidation, vandalism and harassment…for their work within the Democratic Party."

In a 1984 interview with the Independent Weekly when Joe and Lightning were awarded two of the Indy's first-ever Citizen Awards, Lightning told of how "two people even threatened to kill me on Rosemary Street." Joe called the attacks "very disruptive and at times painful." Asked if he had been scared, he admitted, with a subtlety that testified to his courage, "At moments."

At the time "Anatomy of An Election" was published in Southern Exposure, Mab Segrest served as coordinator of North Carolinians Against Racist and Religious Violence. Earlier versions of her article appeared in Gay Community News and The Front Page.