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.

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.


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