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.

Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Town milestone in gay rights

Chapel Hill News, Sept. 13, 2000 - Letter to the Editor

Twenty-five years ago, on Sept. 13, 1975, the Chapel Hill Board of Aldermen, as the Town Council was then called, passed the first gay rights law in the southern states. (In 1975 fewer than a dozen towns and cities in the United States had such laws.)

The aldermen at the time were considering a new personnel ordinance for the town employees. In response to a request from the recently formed Carolina Gay Association, a UNC student organization, the aldermen included gay people among the list of groups against whom the town should not discriminate in matters of hiring and compensation, training and promotion. The vote was unanimous.

After all these years, it may be appropriate to thank once again those who took a stand in 1975: Mayor Howard Lee and Alderman Gerry Cohen, Tommy Gardner, Shirley Marshall, Sid Rancer, R.D. Smith and Alice Welsh.

Joe Herzenberg
Chapel Hill