Kathy Kozachenko Becomes First Out LGBTQ Candidate to Win Public Office in the U.S.
Kathy Kozachenko entered college at the University of Michigan as a social justice advocate and joined the Human Rights Party – a pro-feminist, pro-racial justice and pro-LGBTQ party. Party officials encouraged her to run for Ann Arbor City Council and to do so as an out lesbian. Both Gerry DeGrieck and Nancy Wechsler had been elected to the council as Human Rights Party members before her, and both came out while in office, becoming the first elected officials to do so. But Kozachenko decided to take the party officials’ advice and run her campaign while out – although she did not make her sexual orientation central to her campaign.
On April 2, 1974, in a liberal district in liberal Ann Arbor, Kozachenko defeated her opponent by 52 points and became the first out LGBTQ person ever elected in the United States.
She spoke to her sexual orientation in her victory speech:
“This is the first time in the history of the U.S. that someone has run openly as a gay person and been elected to public office. Gay liberation was not a major issue in the campaign — both candidates in this ward said they supported gay rights, but 10 years ago, or even three years ago, lesbianism would have meant automatic defeat. This year we talked about rent control. We talked about the city’s budget. We talked about police priorities, and we had a record of action to run on. Many people’s attitudes about gayness are still far from healthy, but my campaign forced some people at least to re-examine their prejudices and stereotypes.”
Her campaign was the first success in what would become a political movement to build LGBTQ power. On April 2, 2019, with Kozachenko’s blessing, LGBTQ Victory Institute launched its annual National Out to Win Day, to honor her achievement and to encourage more LGBTQ people to run for office.