Very simply, there are many LGBT people out there trying to revise LGBT history.


Most have either a financial stake or a personal political agenda, but either way, they do an injustice to our community by peddling snake-oil history.


The Stonewall Riots were not the first riots in the LGBT community. The Annual Reminder pickets in Philadelphia were not the first pickets. And Harvey Milk was not the first LGBT person elected to public office in the nation. (He wasn’t even the first to run for public office in California.)

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Let’s start with the one that almost everyone in the LGBT community thinks is true, but is not: Milk was not the first member of the LGBT community to be elected to public office. In fact, there were many others, mostly lesbian women, who it seems have been side-stepped.


The honor of the first person to be elected to public office as an out candidate goes to a woman named Kathy Kozachenko, who ran for the city council of Ann Arbor, Mich., as an open lesbian — and won — in 1974. The city seems to have been a hot bed of liberalism or gay activism; the year before, both Nancy Wechsler and Jerry DeGrieck came out while serving on the council, becoming the first out elected officials in America. They were both graduate students at the University of Michigan, and were elected to council in 1972 as members of the Human Rights Party. They came out in a joint press conference, after a homophobic act in the city.


Then in 1977 in the Midwest — Madison, Wisc., to be exact — Jim Yeadon was elected alderman.


On a national level, Madeline Davis in 1972 became the first openly lesbian delegate elected to a major political convention when she won her bid for the Democratic National Convention.


On a statewide level, the first openly lesbian or gay candidate elected to a state legislature was Elaine Noble (D), who won her race for the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1974.


So back to California, and San Francisco. In 1961, José Sarria, an activist and drag queen, became the first openly gay candidate to run for public office when he sought a San Francisco supervisor position.


Milk’s election to that role was in 1977, and was a major step for San Francisco. He was and is a historic figure; Milk brought the San Francisco LGBT community a sense of political organization, and a new sense of power. But his time as an elected official and gay activist were short-lived. He should be honored, but not at the expense of the women and men who were the first to bravely bring our community out of invisibility.

  

Mark Segal, Philadelphia Gay News publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. You can follow him on Facebook at MarkSegalPGN or Twitter at PhilaGayNews. His memoir AND THEN I DANCED is available online and at your favorite bookstore.

 

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