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 1, 2004

’81 killing spurred Durham gay rally, one of N.C.’s 1st

Durham Herald-Sun, Oct. 1, 2004

In April 1981, four sunbathers on the banks of the Little River were attacked by a group who, witnesses said, headed toward them shouting, "We're going to beat some faggots!"

One man, 46-year-old Ronald Antonevich, died three days later.

Joe Herzenberg, who is gay and was a Chapel Hill Town Council member at the time, said he remembers the death vividly.

"It meant that somebody could be killed or badly hurt because somebody thought you were gay," he said.

The attack also enraged Durham's small gay community, prompting "Our Day Out," what Herzenberg recalls as one of North Carolina's earliest gay rallies. The event attracted hundreds of supporters and curious onlookers, and brought a
new civil rights issue into prominence.

Much has changed in the 23 years since Antonevich's fatal beating and the rally that followed. Durham's gay pride festival is now a statewide event that attracts several thousand people. This weekend, PrideFest 2004 celebrates "20 Years of Pride," including the march sparked by the attack and the parades that began a few years later. The activities begin tonight with a "Ninth Street Promenade" and continue Saturday with speeches and a parade on and around Duke's East Campus.

"The climate in Durham is one of the more accepting climates in the state," said Ian Palmquist, executive director of Equality North Carolina, a political action committee working for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. "The state as a whole still is relatively conservative," he said, "and, certainly, the work being done in places like Durham is leading the state forward."

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