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.

Friday, April 21, 1995

Chapel Hill may expand rights of gays

The News & Observer, April 21, 1995

CHAPEL HILL -- For 20 years, the town of Chapel Hill has had a policy that prohibits discrimination against its gay employees.

Now town leaders are considering going further, extending some benefits to gay employees and allowing gay residents to register their unions officially. If enacted, the policies would be among the most liberal in the state. On Monday night, the Chapel Hill Town Council will consider a series of policies that would affect its employees. Among them:

- Allowing paid sick leave to care for partners.
-Redefining the word "family" in the development ordinance to include registered domestic partners.
-Prohibiting supervisory relationships between employees who are domestic partners.
-Requiring domestic partners of elected leaders to disclose their real estate holdings.

Chapel Hill Council member Mark Chilton, who proposed the changes last year, said it's a matter of fairness.

"I think that essentially this is recognition on the part of our town government that families are a lot different and more complex in the 1990s than they were in the 1950s," he said. "It is perhaps even overdue."


On Thursday, gay leaders applauded Chapel Hill's initiative.

Former Town Council member Joe Herzenberg, who was the town's first openly gay elected official, recalled the story of a town employee who had been fired from a previous job in another state because he was gay. When the man moved to Chapel Hill, he was protected by the town's anti-discrimination clause.

"Some people kind of growl at things that are symbolic, but I think symbolic things are very important," he said. "This isn't just symbolic. Some people will benefit from this, will feel better and have better lives."

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