Gerry Studds; Gay Pioneer in Congress
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Gerry E. Studds, the first openly gay person elected to Congress and a longtime proponent of environmental protection, New England fishermen and human rights, died Oct. 14 at Boston Medical Center, several days after he collapsed while walking his dog. He was 69.
Mr. Studds lost consciousness because of a blood clot in his lung Oct. 3. He later regained consciousness and seemed to be improving, but his condition worsened Friday because of a second clot, according to Dean Hara, who married Mr. Studds in 2004 shortly after same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts.
A 12-term congressman from Massachusetts, Mr. Studds was a ranking member of the House Democratic leadership and popular in his 10th Congressional District in 1983 when he was censured for sexual misconduct with a 17-year-old male page that had occurred 10 years earlier.
Mr. Studds told the House that his affair with the page was "a very serious error in judgment" but that it was "a mutually voluntary, private relationship between adults."
He chose not to fight the charges, saying his right to privacy was more important.
"It is not a simple task for any of us to meet adequately the obligations of either public office or private life, let alone both," Mr. Studds said on the House floor. "But these challenges are made substantially more complex when one is, as I am, both an elected public official and gay."
The scandal, which also involved Rep. Daniel B. Crane (R-Ill.), who was involved with a female page, highlighted problems in supervision of congressional pages.
Mr. Studds's revelation did not prevent his reelection in 1984, a race he won by a solid majority.
Long a champion of environmental and maritime concerns, Mr. Studds was advocate for the fishing industry and worked to establish a barrier to foreign fishing vessels 200 miles from the U.S. coast. He was chairman of the powerful Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries from 1990 to 1994, the Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Navigation, and the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Oceans and Wildlife, and was a member of the Subcommittee on Health and the Environment. He was a leader in passing legislation that now protects the Atlantic striped bass, whales, dolphins and porpoises.
"His work on behalf of our fishing industry and the protection of our waters has guided the fishing industry into the future and ensured that generations to come will have the opportunity to love and learn from the sea," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said. "He was a steward of the oceans."
Mr. Studds, who was known for his acidic wit and his mastery of legislative details, also pushed for health-care reform and for increased funding for people with AIDS and for AIDS research. In 1987, he sent a copy of Surgeon General C. Everett Koop's 36-page "Report on AIDS" to every household in his district. He also opposed military intervention in Central America.
He was among the first members of Congress to endorse lifting the ban on gays and lesbians in the military, and in 1994 with Kennedy, he introduced legislation to end discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation.