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Gerry Studds; Gay Pioneer in Congress

By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb
Washington Post Staff Writer
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.

Gerry Eastman Studds was born May 12, 1937, in Mineola, N.Y., the son of a Long Island architect. He grew up in Cohasset, Mass., in the district he would later represent. He graduated from Yale University and received his master's degree in teaching there in 1961.

Shortly after, he came to Washington and joined the State Department as a Foreign Service officer. By 1962, he was working as a congressional liaison for President John F. Kennedy's domestic Peace Corps task force, and two years later he was a legislative assistant to Sen. Harrison A. Williams Jr. (D-N.J.).

Leaving Washington in the mid-1960s, he became a history teacher at St. Paul's School in Concord, N.H., until his opposition to the Vietnam War propelled him back into politics. In 1968, the young teacher and peace activist joined the presidential primary campaign of Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.) as a coordinator in New Hampshire, where his political acumen developed.

In the book "1968 in America" (1988), author Charles Kaiser recounted how Mr. Studds and David Hoeh, a political strategist, helped to orchestrate McCarthy's victory in New Hampshire.

"Studds had spent the Thanksgiving recess at home doing some basic statistical research on New Hampshire presidential primaries, and he came to Chicago armed with an analysis of the vote, its percentage in each town and each congressional district," Kaiser wrote. "He presented McCarthy with a twelve-day schedule of campaigning with which the candidate could hit 75 percent of the voters."

The analysis, combined with Hoeh's experience, proved successful. "This would be the hallmark of the New Hampshire campaign: so-called amateurs who turned out to be much better informed about the local electorate than their most entrenched opponents," Kaiser wrote.

Fully engaged in the politics of the day, Mr. Studds went on to serve as a delegate to the tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Two years later, at age 33 and while a student at the Harvard School of Education, he first ran for Congress but lost to the Republican incumbent in a close election.

He spent the next two years studying issues related to the fishing industry and Portuguese, the language of a community in his district of considerable size. In 1972, he won his second bid and became the first Democrat in 50 years to win what was considered a safe Republican seat.

Mr. Studds, who lived in Provincetown, Mass., retired from Congress in 1997 and became a lobbyist for the fishing industry and environmental causes.

In 1996, Congress named the 842-square-mile Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary for him.

In addition to Hara, his partner since 1991, survivors include a brother and a sister.

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