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.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Town: Zap ‘defense of marriage’ law in N.C. - Chapel Hill council wants repeal of law banning gay unions

Durham Herald-Sun, April 15, 2004

CHAPEL HILL -- The Town Council voted unanimously Wednesday to ask state legislators to do away with North Carolina's "defense of marriage" law, which bans same-sex marriages.


Councilman Mark Kleinschmidt proposed making the request part of the council's legislative agenda, and he described it Wednesday as a way for the town to say, "Hell yeah, we're about fairness, we're about equality, we're about treating people fairly."

"If that means stepping out and making some noise, then give me the noisemaker," he said.


The proposal is aimed at a law the state Legislature passed in 1996, the same year that Congress passed the national Defense of Marriage Act. The federal law defines marriage as a union between a man and woman and gives states autonomy in deciding whether to recognize same-sex marriages from other states or countries.

The N.C. law bans same-sex unions and says that same-sex marriages performed outside the state are not valid in North Carolina.

Joe Herzenberg, a former council member who is gay, spoke in favor of Kleinschmidt's petition. Herzenberg said he was proud that, back in 1975, town officials protected employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and he hoped the council would vote unanimously about the same-sex marriage request.

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

State might not follow locals' lead

The Daily Tar Heel, April 7, 2004

As the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro headline a fight for same-sex rights in North Carolina, most doubt the rest of the state will join in on what is now a national debate.

"North Carolina is not the most progressive state," said Joe Herzenberg, former Chapel Hill Town Council member and co-founder of Equality North Carolina, an advocacy group for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

As the first openly gay elected official in the state, Herzenberg has paid close attention to the state of gay rights in North Carolina for more than a decade.

"I think what they are doing in Chapel Hill and Carrboro is great," Herzenberg said. "At least we are starting somewhere."