Campaign flyer from Joe’s first Chapel Hill Town Council race, 1979

About Joe

My photo
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.

Wednesday, September 20, 1995

An anniversary for gay rights in Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill Herald, Sept. 20, 1995

On Sept. 15, 1975, the Chapel Hill Board of Aldermen (as the Town Council was called then), in response to a petition from Carolina Gay Association (as B-GLAD was then called), adopted by unanimous vote a town personnel ordinance that included protection on the basis of "affectional orientation" for town employees.

At the time there were 26 jurisdictions in the nation that offered protection of some sort, by ordinance, on the basis of sexual orientation, but none of these were in the South.

We indeed owe our thanks to then Mayor Howard Lee and the members of the Board of Aldermen -- Gerry Cohen, Tommy Gardner, Shirley Marshall, the late Sid Rancer, R.D. Smith, and Alice Welsh -- for this advance in civil rights protection.

Over the last score of years, Chapel Hill and then Carrboro elected openly gay officials, the first (and only, so far) in North Carolina, and more recently Carrboro and the Chapel Hill adopted domestic partnership legislation. (Indeed Orange County is the only county in the nation with two municipalities offering such legislation.) And now there is a gay candidate for mayor in Carrboro.

All this in many ways started 20 years ago this month, when a handful of UNC students petitioned the Chapel Hill governing board and then got what they asked for. Let us rejoice.

Joe Herzenberg
Chapel Hill