Mon. Apr 22nd, 2024

Kathy Kozachenko, 1st openly gay elected official in U.S., on 50 years of LGBTQ rights

By 37ci3 Apr2,2024

Kozachenko says even the pushback he’s faced on the campaign trail has been relatively mild. She recalled being knocked on the door by a man who told her he was a born-again Christian but would vote for Kozachenko anyway because “God works in mysterious ways.”

“I was impressed that he has an open mind and is voting for this person and that what he is taught in his religion does not offend him,” Kozachenko said. “Now … we’re in a very scary time in our country where people’s religious views are pushing back some of the progress, some of the rights we won when we were in college 50 years ago.”

Kozachenko ultimately chose not to run for a second two-year term because he no longer saw the City Council as an “effective vehicle” to effect change in the causes he cared about.

“My goal was never to become a ‘politician’.” It was to work for social and economic justice,” he said.

After Kozachenko’s historic feat, other openly gay lawmakers soon followed suit. In November 1974, seven months later, Elaine Noble won a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, becoming the first openly gay person elected to the state legislature. Three years later, in 1977, Milk won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which he held for only 10 months before being assassinated by a former colleague along with the city’s mayor.

“In 1974, we had one LGBTQ+ elected official. Today we have 1275. He was the spark that changed the face of politics in the United States and around the world,” said Elliott Imse, executive director of the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute.

“An Important Piece of American History”

The city of Ann Arbor is celebrating her role in LGBTQ history by raising money to erect a statue of Kozachenko in front of City Hall.

Mayor Christopher Taylor said the city’s bicentennial, which coincides with the 50th anniversary of Kozachenko’s election, seemed like an opportune time to recognize him and “this important component of LGBTQ history.”

“This is a very local community-supported effort, and we’re so excited and proud as a municipal organization and as a larger community that this important piece of American history was filmed right here in Ann Arbor,” Taylor told NBC News.

Kozachenko said she is proud of her family's place in LGBTQ history.
Kozachenko said she is proud of her family’s place in LGBTQ history.By Sarah Huny Young for NBC News

As for Kozachenko, he keeps the celebration small. She plans to get together with close friends to celebrate the anniversary, but she said the real highlight will be in the form of political activism, volunteering to help register voters for the November election and advocating for candidates. LGBTQ rights, supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia, and protecting access to abortion, among other progressive policies.

“I realized that part of the importance of my election and my place in LGBTQ history is the importance of advocating for the importance of movements working together and seeing that the fight for justice is a shared fight.” he said.

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By 37ci3

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