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, May 27, 2001

UNC-TV's programming is sometimes baffling

Chapel Hill News, May 27, 2001

By Kevin O'Kelly

"Something in Common," UNC-TV's documentary on teaching tolerance for diversity in North Carolina schools that premiered in April, will be re-broadcast June 13 at 9 p.m.

"Something" provides glimpses of impressive initiatives in different schools across the state to cope with rapidly changing student populations. For example, in 1987, there were two Hispanic students in Chatham County schools. Now approximately 40 percent of the residents of Siler City are Latino.


One of the tolerance issues covered in "Something" is tolerance for gays and lesbians. And this is a production of UNC-TV, the same network that refused to air "It's Elementary" - a documentary on teaching tolerance for gays and lesbians to elementary school students - in 1999. And it's the same network that is airing a number of documentaries on gay and lesbian issues in June.


The production of "Something in Common" was UNC-TV's response to public criticism of its refusal to air "It's Elementary."

In November 1999, UNC-TV Director Tom Howe told The News & Observer of Raleigh that he supported the decision not to air "It's Elementary" because the program "advocates and promotes rather than analyzes."

Well, "Something in Common" has a slant as well: It advocates tolerance. And that includes tolerance for gays and lesbians. Having seen "Something in Common," I can't understand why they didn't show "It's Elementary."

Programming Director Diane Lucas refused to discuss the issue.

"I don't want to relive any of that experience again," she said. However, she added, "rather than air a documentary that focused on one issue, we wanted a program that was more inclusive of issues facing our schools."

Not showing a documentary on gay issues is inclusive?

To be truly inclusive, they should have just shown both. I thought it possible that UNC-TV balked at showing "It's Elementary" because the focus was on elementary schools. Perhaps it was thought that grade school is too early for children to be exposed to sexual orientation issues.

Yet on June 9, at 11 p.m. UNC-TV is broadcasting "Our House," a documentary profiling children with gay and lesbian parents. And on June 24 at 11 p.m., UNC-TV will air the "P.O.V." documentary "Scout's Honor," on 12-year-old Steven Cozza's campaign against the Boy Scouts' anti-gay policy.

It just doesn't make any sense. I wondered if the gay-lesbian segment of "Something in Common" was acceptable because it involved high school students instead of elementary school students. And because it was in the last 10 minutes of the program. And as for those other documentaries - they involve children already exposed to sexual orientation issues: they don't suggest teaching tolerance for gays and lesbians in supposedly innocent elementary school classrooms.

I recently discussed the issue with Joe Herzenberg, a former Chapel Hill Town Council member who has been active in local gay issues. I asked him, "Am I being paranoid by devoting so much thought to this?"

"There's definitely paranoia involved," he said. "But it's not yours."

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