Gerry Studds, 69, the first openly gay member of Congress, died Oct. 14. For 24 years, until he retired in 1997, he represented a district that began at Provincetown on Cape Cod and stretched south and west in Massachusetts to the border with Rhode Island.
Studds first came to national prominence in 1983 when it was revealed that a decade earlier he had a sexual relationship with a male congressional page who was then 17. He refused to apologize, appearing at a news conference with the former page where both declared that the private, consensual matter was no one else's business.
The House investigated and censured Studds for sexual misconduct. But his district responded with little more than a collective shrug of its shoulders, reelecting him five more times to that office until he chose to retire.
During his tenure he rose to head the subcommittee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, which has oversight of the U.S. Coast Guard. He used that position to fight for the right of gays to serve in the military, demanding accountability and prying secret reports from an otherwise reluctant Pentagon.
Studds also was one of the leading early advocates for AIDS legislation and funding. He helped to build the initial bipartisan approach to fighting the disease that largely continues to this day.
In 1996, he was one of the few members of Congress to speak out against the Defense of Marriage Act ( DOMA ) , but by then he had already announced that he would not run for reelection.
Studds collapsed while walking his dog on Oct. 3. Doctors at Boston Medical Center later determined that he had suffered a blood clot in his lung. He was recovering from that and was scheduled to be transferred to a rehabilitation facility when his condition deteriorated rapidly and he died.
Studds had a long-term relationship with Dean T. Hara, which began in 1991. The pair solemnized it in a wedding ceremony soon after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in 2004. He is survived by Hara.
'One of the many lessons Gerry Studds left is that one can lead an open and authentic life and do good,' said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese. 'He understood that the greatest contribution he could make to his community was to do an extraordinary job, and that is why he was resoundingly reelected time after time until he chose to retire.'
'Congressman Studds believed passionately in the right of lesbian and gay patriots to serve our country and he worked tirelessly to reveal the empty rhetoric that propped up the military's exclusion of gay Americans,' said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.