Friends of the nation’s first openly gay congressman remembered him on Dec. 2 as a man who went to Washington to end the Vietnam War and protect the environment, then became a champion of gay rights.
The packed memorial service for former U.S. Rep. Gerry Studds featured his favored choral music and stories some bittersweet, some humorous about his keen devotion to Cape Cod and his skill at balancing the oft-competing interests of commercial fishermen in his Congressional district with environmentalists concerned about dwindling ocean resources.
Studds died at age 69 on Oct. 14, 11 days after collapsing with a blood clot while walking his dog in Boston.
Studds became the first openly gay congressman in 1983 after a sexual encounter with a 17-year-old page 10 years earlier became public. Studds called the relationship “a serious error in judgment” and was censured by Congress, but defended his action as a consensual connection with a young adult.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who is also gay, said that Studds inspired thousands of gays and lesbians by acknowledging his sexuality without apology.
“The important thing about what Gerry did was the reaction to it. And the reaction to it was that there was no reaction,” Frank said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, December 8, 2006.