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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
October 20, 2006

Gerry Studds, first openly gay man in Congress,

Boston--Gerry E. Studds, the first openly gay member of Congress, died at age 69 on October 14. The cause of death, days after he collapsed while walking his dog, was a blood clot in the lung.

Studds was a popular Democratic member of the U.S. House who served a total of 24 years before retiring in 1997. His district included Cape Cod, the islands and the South Shore.

While in Congress, Studds was one of its most expert members on fishing conservation and maritime law. He was also a noted conservationist and admired orator. Upon his retirement, Congress named an 842 square mile national marine sanctuary in Massachusetts after him.

Studds came out on the House floor in 1983 after it surfaced that he had a sexual relationship with a male page ten years earlier, when the page was 17. It was during Studds� first congressional term.

A second House member, Republican Daniel Crane of Illinois, was involved in a separate scandal that year, involving a female page. He resigned his seat.

Studds� relationship with the page was consensual, and Washington�s age of consent is 16, so no laws were broken. Studds never apologized for the relationship, which included a trip to Europe.

Studds called the relationship �a very serious error in judgement� and continued to talk about the difficulties faced by congress members who have to balance personal and public lives.

�These challenges are made substantially more complex when on is, as I am, both an elected public official and gay,� Studds said.

But Studds was censured by the House for sexual misconduct, and as such, he lost the chair of the House Merchant Marine subcommittee. Years later he was made chair of the new Merchant Marine and Fisheries committee.

According to Washington Post accounts of the time, Studds� constituents were not surprised when he came out, and when he returned to the district following the censure with the 27-year-old former page by his side, he was greeted by standing ovations. Studds continued to be easily re-elected.

Studds was also an outspoken opponent of President Reagan�s Strategic Defense Initiative, known as �Star Wars.� He also strongly opposed the government�s covert operations in Nicaragua.

Later, Studds became an advocate for LGBT issues including AIDS funding, civil rights, and marriage.

Studds married his husband Dean Hara in 2004, a week after same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts.

Studds was from a political family. His great grandfather was former Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry, from whose name the term �gerrymander� comes.

Studds is being celebrated as one who changed Massachusetts politics and made it possible for openly gay people to run for public office around the country.

�Gerry�s leadership changed Massachusetts forever and we�ll never forget him,� said Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy following his death.

Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese said, �As the first openly gay member of Congress, Gerry Studds was a pioneer. And one of the many lessons he left is that one can lead an open and authentic life and do good.�

Ironically, Studds� page affair surfaced again at the time of his death by Republicans claiming a �Democrats too� angle to closeted Republican House member Mark Foley�s� page scandal.

Studds� death is also shedding light on another inequality LGBT people face. Hara is unable to collect the spousal benefit of Studds� $114,377 annual pension, despite their Massachusetts marriage.

If Hara was a woman instead of a man, Congress would recognize the marriage and he would get $62,000 per year, as all other congressional spouses do.

The 1996 federal �Defense of Marriage Act� prevents recognition of the Massachusetts marriage for federal purposes.

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