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, October 29, 1993

Vigil held to support gay texts - Multicultural lessons in high schools backed

The News & Observer, Oct. 29, 1993


CHAPEL HILL -- About 100 people joined a candlelight vigil in front of the Franklin Street post office Thursday night to support the inclusion of homosexuality as part of a multicultural education plan for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools.

The group consisted of gay and lesbian activists, as well as parents and students, who came out to show that not everyone in Chapel Hill opposes the school system's controversial multicultural program, which includes references to sexual orientation.


The vigil, called "A Night of Healing," was arranged as a show of support for the school board's decision in May to add homosexuality to the school system's multicultural plan. Since that decision, parents opposed to the new plan have dominated several school board meetings. The debate has raged even hotter since last week's discovery of sexually explicit material in some selections of a reading list from Chapel Hill High School teacher David Bruton's class.

Support for the multicultural plan had been fragmented until the recent formation of groups called Many Voices, One Community and the Orange Lesbian and Gay Alliance. Both groups have criticized Putting Children First, a group that formed in August to combat the gay and lesbian aspects of the multicultural plan.

"There's a lot of misinformation being put out there," said Doug Ferguson of the gay-lesbian alliance. "If people knew who we were, then they would know that we are not the monsters that we are being made out to be."

Hugh Singeline, a board member of Outright, a gay and lesbian youth support group, said he has no problem with parents getting involved in school curricula. "But if forced ignorance is to be the goal, then there is a problem," he said.

Bruton attended the meeting Thursday night and did not address the crowd. But he said afterward, "This is much bigger than just Chapel Hill, and it's going to keep getting bigger until people learn to get along with each other and give up their closely held prejudices."

Carrboro Board of Alderman candidate Mike Nelson and former Chapel Hill Town Council member Joe Herzenberg, both of whom are openly gay, also attended.

Wednesday, October 20, 1993

Gays, lesbians unite politically in Orange

The News & Observer, Oct. 20, 1993


CHAPEL HILL -- Saying anti-homosexual sentiment is running high in Orange County, a group of gays and lesbians has formed a political action group that will endorse local candidates in the November elections.

The Orange Lesbian and Gay Association, or OLGA, will meet Monday and review questionnaires it sent out to candidates in three local races: the Chapel Hill Town Council, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board.

Doug Ferguson, a founding member and co-chairman, said the group formed quickly in response to the fractious issue of multicultural education, which exploded this week with the suspension of a reading program at Chapel Hill High School that included the works of gay and lesbian writers.

He said parents who have spoken out against the inclusion of sexual orientation in the curriculum have painted gays and lesbians in a stereotypical -- and unfavorable -- light.

"We're not about indoctrinating children, not about pedophilia, not about promiscuity," he said. "A lot of issues are being misrepresented." Ferguson said he hopes the formation of OLGA can defuse the tense situation and present the other side of the argument.

The group will try to counteract arguments of another new group, Putting Children First, whose members say including sexual orientation in the classroom condones behavior they view as immoral.

Parents in Putting Children First, which also endorses candidates, became outraged last week over sexually explicit material on a reading list in one Chapel Hill High School class.

Robert Alexander, president of Putting Children First, said he isn't worried about the gay group.

"If this group is out to get people to vote and to inform them, I think that's wonderful," he said. "Maybe one day this group will want to sit down with us and write a true tolerance policy to make sure no one's rights will be infringed."

OLGA's Ferguson said gays and lesbians may have suffered during the recent emotionally charged debate over material offered in teacher David Bruton's English class. "It was a very unfortunate turn of events," he said. "I read the literature myself and felt it might have been inappropriate for high school age students. But they need to give the same level of scrutiny to other teachers. They zoomed in on David Bruton."

Joe Herzenberg, a former Chapel Hill Town Council member who is openly gay, applauded the group's birth. He said he has agreed to help the group assess candidates' answers on questionnaires.