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, November 22, 1992

Gay Leaders Meet in N.C., Map Movement's Strategy

Charlotte Observer, Page 1D, Nov. 22, 1992

By FOON RHEE, Raleigh Bureau

Some 70 gay and lesbian politicians and activists from across the country huddled Saturday to plan the gay rights movement's course.

They quickly agreed on one thing: Even after unprecedented electoral success, it's no time to get complacent.

"This is not a time for sitting back and saying things are great," said Bob Ebersole, Massachusetts' director of municipal management. "It's a time for working even harder."

For starters, they said they`ll press President-elect Bill Clinton to keep campaign pledges to appoint an AIDS policy "czar" and increase funding, and to lift the ban on gays in the military.

They discussed a possible economic boycott in Colorado, where voters this month banned local governments from enacting gay-rights laws. That vote rescinded laws in Denver, Boulder and Aspen.

And they pledged a huge lobbying effort in the next two years for a federal civil rights law that would prohibit discrimination against gays in employment, housing, public accommodations and government services. The proposal, similar to existing protections for racial minorities and the disabled, has yet to get to a vote in Congress.

Such a federal law would give gays minimum protections that states and cities could only extend.

Monday in Charlotte, the city council may reject a proposal to expand a local anti-discrimination law for public establishments to cover sexual orientation. More than 100 U.S. cities - including Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh - already have similar laws.

Delegates to the eighth annual conference of gay and lesbian officials talked of such high goals after this month`s election boosted the ranks of openly gay elected officials to 75, the most ever.

They include two Congress members from Massachusetts and 10 state and 63 local officeholders. Among them: Chapel Hill Town Council member Joe Herzenberg, the only openly gay elected official in the Carolinas.

Gay officials also expect unprecedented access to the new Clinton administration based on their support - 9 in 10 gay votes, according to one estimate. A national coalition of gay and lesbian groups is compiling candidates for jobs inside the Clinton administration.

"Now comes reality - from being a special-interest group to being a team player," said William Waybourn, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund in Washington. "That means responsibility. I`m not sure we know how to handle that. There`s no blueprint to follow."

Speakers on a panel on the meaning of Clinton's election debated how gays should wield their power after 12 years outside the loop during Republican rule.

"It was very easy to deal with George Bush - all we had to say was he was wrong because he usually was," said Eric Rosenthal, political director of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, the main gay political lobby in Washington.

With Clinton, he said, "We need to learn when to ask, when to demand, when to praise, when to criticize. . . . We need to see Bill Clinton not as a panacea, but as an important next step in advancing our community`s agenda." Still, some warned that success will breed a backlash: more anti-gay amendments from U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., more ballot measures like the one in Colorado, and the one in Oregon, rejected by voters, that denounced homosexuality as "abnormal and perverse."

Justin, a Camp Lejeune Marine sergeant who heads a three-month-old N.C. military gay rights group, told delegates there's been a "big increase in homophobia" since Clinton last week reaffirmed his commitment to end the ban on gays in the military. He didn't want his last name used.

"We want to make sure it does not translate into physical gay-bashing," he said later.

Monday, November 16, 1992

Gay officials to take stock of political gains

The News & Observer, Raleigh, Nov. 16, 1992, page 1A


CHAPEL HILL - If someone had asked Joe Herzenberg 12 years ago to predict what three Republican administrations and a growing AIDS epidemic would do to the gay rights movement, his answer would have been grim.

"Unmitigated disaster," said Herzenberg, a Chapel Hill Town Council member and North Carolina's only openly gay elected official.

But following the election cycle of 1992, it's clear that the gay movement fared better than Herzenberg had ever expected:

- The ranks of elected officials who acknowledge their gay and lesbian sexual preference grew by almost 20 percent - from 64 to 75 nationwide, the most in U.S. history.

- Both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates, during their nomination acceptance speeches, promised more money for AIDS research.

- Oregon voters defeated a referendum that generated virulently anti-gay sentiment.

- And in January, when Bill Clinton takes office, he has promised to eliminate the ban against homosesuals in the military.

"The movement has flourished," Herzenberg said. "Gays and lesbians - and our agenda - have become part of mainstream politics."

This weekend, Herzenberg will play host to a national conference of more than 75 gay and lesbian elected and appointed officials from around the country who will gather in Chapel Hill to assess where the movement is and where it is heading.

Not to mention celebrate, added William Waybourn, national director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund in Washington, D.C.

"How wonderful, said Waybourn. "We're getting together in Jesse Helms' back yard to talk about how Jesse Helms' world is shrinking."

The conference, to be held at the Carolina Inn on the University of North Carolina campus, will feature panels and speeches on running for office, raising money, battling conservatives and mobilizing the gay community for marches and demonstrations.


Wednesday, August 26, 1992

Sunday, July 26, 1992

A Tar Heel town that Dan Quayle would love to hate

A Tar Heel town that Dan Quayle would love to hate: Chapel Hill's dens of radicalism offer haven for the cultural elite

The News & Observer, July 26, 1992


CHAPEL HILL -- Dan Quayle is making a lot of noise these days about a motley group he calls the cultural elite. He knows they're liberals, mostly Democrats. But so far he has managed to identify only a few by name.

There's Murphy Brown, the unwed TV anchor mom. And Lyndon Johnson, architect of the Great Society and the man responsible for the riots in Los Angeles 19 years after his death.

Quayle might find the hunt for these elusive elitists easier in Chapel Hill, where Birkenstock sandals and "If you want peace, work for justice" bumper stickers are as common as crabgrass. The college town is North Carolina's answer to Berkeley, a California sanctuary for left-wingers, tree-huggers, granola-eaters and social apologists.


Chapel Hill is such a bastion of radicalism that Sen. Jesse Helms wanted to put a chain-link fence around it and charge admission.

It seems to meet all the criteria. Consider:

Chapel Hill sells more copies of The New York Times than any other town in the state.

With 137,000 listeners, its home-grown WUNC-FM is the most listened-to public radio station, per capita, in the country.

The university's public television syndicate, now operated out of Research Triangle Park, is the most-watched in the state.

And more people in Chapel Hill subscribe to The New Yorker magazine, per capita, than do people in New York.

Chapel Hill was the first town in North Carolina to pass laws banning discrimination against gays. And it is home to the only openly gay elected official in the state.


When the state re-elected Helms to the U.S. Senate, Chapel Hillians voted almost 5-to-1 for his opponent, Harvey Gantt.

And during the Persian Gulf war, Town Council members actually considered making Chapel Hill a safe haven for conscientious objectors.


But Mayor Pro Tem Joe Herzenberg, the openly homosexual council member, said the point is moot, anyway.

"I don't think the vice president even knows where we are."

Monday, June 15, 1992

Homosexuals Plan Rally: Leaders Calling for Anti-Bias Laws

The State, Columbia, S.C., June 15, 1992


Scores of gay men and lesbians and their supporters from across South Carolina will rally on the State House Saturday to protest the lack of laws protecting homosexuals from discrimination.

But organizers of the South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride March say this weekend will also be a time of celebration. Matt Tischler, executive chairman of the local Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement, said the march "is a chance for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, their friends and supporters to come together."


Among the featured speakers at Saturday's rally will be Chapel Hill, N.C. Mayor Pro Tempore Joe Herzenberg, the only openly gay public officeholder in the Carolinas. Herzenberg will talk about the homosexual's role in shaping public policy. "It's important for gay men and lesbians to run and be elected to office," he said.


Tuesday, June 2, 1992

Chapel Hill schools seek to protect gays

The News & Observer, June 2, 1992


CHAPEL HILL -- The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board sent a message Monday night to vandals who have painted anti-gay slurs on local school buildings in recent weeks:

The school system considers homophobia as bad as racism, sexism and every other kind of prejudice, and will not tolerate it.

Following a series of ugly attacks on a gay teacher at Chapel Hill High School, the board became the first in the state to order a change in its anti-discrimination policies to specifically protect homosexuals.

"I had hoped it wouldn't be necessary to spell out all the different ways we need to be sensitive to other people," said board chairman Mary Bushnell. "But it seems we do."

Over the past three months, the high school has seen his classroom windows broken on numerous occasions and a dead possum thrown onto the floor.

His name, along with anti-gay epithets, has been scrawled in paint on five different buildings and nine school buses. Even his home has been vandalized.

Removing the graffiti cost more than $1,000. But gay-rights advocates say the true cost of the attacks was an increased sense of isolation and fear among homosexual students and staff.


Town Council member Joseph Herzenberg, the only openly gay elected official in North Carolina, said both the policy changes and the teacher training are long overdue.

After the attacks on the teacher, Herzenberg wrote a letter to the board at the request of several parents. He said homophobia has been a problem at the high school for almost a decade.

Wednesday, May 6, 1992

This is Chapel Hill, and That's The Law!


Charlotte Observer (Associated Press), May 6, 1992

Chapel Hill, the village famous for its open-minded attitude, is cracking down.

Instead of questioning authority, Chapel Hill is imposing it. In the past year, the town council has passed a variety of laws and tightened enforcement of existing ones that restrict smoking, the playing of loud music, gun possession, land use and what children wear when they ride their bikes.

Town leaders say it's all in the name of public interest.

"I believe the primary responsibility of local government in our society is public health and safety," said council member Joseph Herzenberg.

"These legislative efforts with regard to smoking, wearing a helmet, noise and so on are intended to protect the public health and safety. Remember, in your own home, you can smoke yourself to death."

Herzenberg said the council is not made up of a "bunch of irresponsible ninnies" who are out to cramp the town's style. Instead, he said, the council is attempting to balance the protection of personal freedom with the greater needs of the community.

Other folks are less enthusiastic about the town's infringement on what they perceive as personal rights.

"It's sort of like Big Brother," said Dennis Lubahn, a member of the Libertarian Party who lives in Durham and is a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill. "This is kind of the liberal side of Big Brother."

Meanwhile, town leaders downplay Chapel Hill's reputation for breaking new ground in the world of local government.

Council member Joyce Brown noted that other college towns have much stricter limits on noise. Chapel Hill just seems to get more attention, she said.

Tuesday, April 14, 1992

Chapel Hill adopts strict gun ordinance

The News & Observer, April 14, 1992

By RUTH SHEEHAN, Staff writer

CHAPEL HILL -- Joseph A. Herzenberg threatened to use his toy pistol to compel his fellow Town Council members to adopt the state's strictest gun control ordinance Monday night.

But he didn't need it.

With just a few words of praise and no debate, the council unanimously approved an ordinance that prohibits the possession, display and use of firearms on all town-owned property, at street fairs and on public transportation such as buses and taxis.

The ordinance took effect immediately.

Passage of the ordinance -- though unprecedented in the state -- was seen mainly as a symbolic gesture in the normally placid college town.

And although local gun enthusiasts expressed outrage at the effort, calling in the National Rifle Association for advice, not a single resident commented during the council's perfunctory deliberations Monday.

The ordinance is drafted to avoid a direct challenge to the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which cites the right to bear arms.

And it carefully dodges provisions in the state constitution and state law forbidding municipalities from passing ordinances to govern the purchase, sale or possession of firearms.

The power of municipalities to control the carrying of weapons is more ambiguous, but Town Attorney Ralph D. Karpinos assured council members that the ordinance is well within their purview.

Currently, state law prohibits guns in school yards and on college campuses, and the town of Chapel Hill has an ordinance that makes it illegal to carry a gun in public parks.

Herzenberg -- who has been pressing for the tighter gun controls for almost three years -- said the ordinance would simply set further limits on the places where people can legally carry firearms and other dangerous weapons.

Council member Julie M. Andresen applauded the measure, noting that street fairs and guns are a dangerous mix.

"It makes a lot of sense not to have people carrying firearms around in that situation," she said.

Karpinos said the town's transportation division recently got a call from someone asking whether he could carry a gun on the bus from Chapel Hill to Durham. Until now, Karpinos said, the answer would have been yes.

Friday, March 20, 1992

Chapel Hill official renews bid to limit guns

The News & Observer, March 20, 1992


CHAPEL HILL -- There have been no reports of gun-wielding lunatics prowling the streets of this quaint university town.

But Town Council member Joseph A. Herzenberg, renewing his call for the toughest gun-control rules in the state, is intent on making Chapel Hill gun-free -- and testing the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Herzenberg began his campaign for stricter limits two years ago, when he proposed banning or regulating the sale of guns within the town -- moves rejected as violations of state law and the U.S. and North Carolina constitutions.

Now he's taking a more cautious tack, aimed at preventing people from carrying firearms in public places.

"I didn't think we could go as far as I wanted to go," said Herzenberg, who has asked the town attorney to draw up an ordinance restricting guns in Chapel Hill as much as the statutes and constitutions will allow.

If Herzenberg is frustrated, local gun owners and members of the National Rifle Association are outraged. They think the council member has gone too far.

To them, what Herzenberg describes as a "symbolic measure" in the low-crime town of Chapel Hill constitutes a blatant attempt to step on their right to bear arms.

"I am all for the registering of firearms, the waiting period for the purchase of handguns, and I would even support a waiting period for rifles and other firearms," said Mark Fisher, of Chapel Hill, who owns several guns for hunting. "Those things would actually do something, but a law like this on the books would be frivolous.


Mark Stone, owner of the Colonial Gun Shop in Hillsborough, one of the largest gun dealers in Orange County, refused to comment on Herzenberg's efforts. Instead, he called the NRA and asked one of their spokesmen to intervene.

Ed Klecka, in the NRA's communications office in Washington, said in turn that he could not discuss Herzenberg's proposal until it is formally presented to the Town Council.

But he did say that while state laws and the state constitution forbid municipalities from passing ordinances to govern the purchase, sale and possession of firearms, the ability of municipalities to control the carrying of firearms is more ambiguous.

"There are real limitations on the statutory authority of towns to regulate guns," said S. Ellis Hankins, executive director of the N.C. League of Municipalities. "A city that is interested in going further may well need some legislation, and that wouldn't be easy."

But citing state law that prohibits guns in school yards and on college campuses, and a town ordinance that makes it illegal to carry a gun in public parks, Herzenberg said he thinks his latest proposal is well within the council's purview.

"I have no illusion that legislation in this area is a cure-all," he said. "However, I know that if you make it against the law to carry a gun in town hall, people may be less likely to carry a gun in town hall."

"This is a good symbolic measure. It can raise the public consciousness about guns, and it can also have some deterrent effect. We like to think of ourselves as a peaceful town, but four people were killed last year, and if we can save one life, we've accomplished a lot."

Thursday, March 12, 1992

Walkers have foothold in Chapel Hill

The News & Observer, March 12, 1992

By SUSAN KAUFFMAN, Staff writer

CHAPEL HILL -- You've seen them -- on Franklin and North Columbia Streets, in Eastowne, on campus or near Broad Street in Carrboro. On foot. In pairs or alone. Dogs in tow. Briskly moving along, or strolling casually.

The walkers of Chapel Hill are restless regulars on the sidewalks and pathways.


They like the fresh air, the chance to commune with nature, or to brush the cobwebs from their minds. Some, such as Town Council member Joseph A. Herzenberg, refuse to own cars and walking is their form of transportation.

"It's a statement of sort," Herzenberg said. "I think too much of our life and world is dominated by private automobiles. Some people couldn't live without them."

Herzenberg, who saunters downtown, views exercise as a byproduct of walking. More importantly, it's a great way to socialize and keep abreast of the latest news.

"I never quite learned to leave home early enough to get someplace on time," Herzenberg said. "I'm frequently interrupted, but that's OK."

Saturday, January 11, 1992

AIDS support group hopes second try to buy house succeeds

The News & Observer, Jan. 11, 1992

CHAPEL HILL -- Two years after failing to buy a house for homeless AIDS patients, an Orange County group is preparing to try again.

The Orange County AIDS Task Force gave up efforts to buy a house on Taylor Street in 1989, soon after being barraged by complaints from neighbors. But this time, members of the group are determined to succeed. Part of what's fueling their confidence is nearly $100,000 the group recently received in private grant money.

Still, Jean Bolduc, president of the group, now called the AIDS Service Agency of Orange County, is bracing for an onslaught of criticism from people who don't like the idea of AIDS patients living in their community.

"You think Chapel Hill is such a liberal place," she said. "But it really isn't."

Within six months, Bolduc hopes to raise the rest of the $275,000 that's needed to secure a house and convert it to a six-bed home for patients. Agency officials plan to choose a site by next year.

She hopes to avoid controversy this time by keeping the community involved in the project.

"People oppose things when they sneak up on them," she said, blaming the earlier reaction on ignorance about AIDS, "which is not unique to Orange County."

The effort is important to Chapel Hill because about 750 AIDS patients from across the state regularly travel to UNC Hospitals for treatment.

Some stay in homeless shelters or check into the hospital for lack of a better place.

Many AIDS patients can't afford a place to live, said Mary Hoover, a UNC Hospitals social worker.

"It's a fairly common scenario," she said. "When AIDS patients become too sick to work, many go on government disability and can no longer afford a home."

Although four Chapel Hill families house AIDS patients for short stints, a more permanent solution is needed, said Dr. Peter Millard, vice president of the AIDS Service Agency.

"Homelessness is a tremendous problem for those infected with HIV," he said. "People end up staying in the homeless shelter, and that's a great danger for them."

Joe Herzenberg, a Chapel Hill Town Council member who is also involved in the AIDS project, said neighborhood opposition shouldn't hamper plans this time.

"I'm sure there are people who would prefer not to have people with AIDS living next door," he said. "My attitude is, 'So what?' It's against the law to discriminate."

And Herzenberg also hopes people have learned more about AIDS in the past two years. "There was a hysterical quality about some people," he said. "It seems to me that people seem better educated now. This is Chapel Hill, a highly educated community where there is a very large medical presence."