First openly gay person elected to Congress
Championed Cape & Island issues for a quarter century
By Walter Brooks
Former U.S. Rep. Gerry Studds, the first openly gay person elected to the United States House of Representatives, died early Saturday morning at Boston Medical Center, several days after he was admitted. He collapsed while walking his dog according to his husband Dean Hara. Studds and Hara were legally married on May 24, 2005, one week after same-sex marriages were legalized in Massachusetts.
Gerry Studds was a longtime Cohassett resident. He had a second home in the West End of Commercial Street in Provincetown until recently. The couple moved into a $1.4 million dollar condo in Boston's South End last year.
First Democratic Congressman for Cape Cod
Studds made his first run for public Congress in 1970, but lost to the six-term incumbent Republican representative Hastings Keith in a close election.
In 1970 the Viet Nam War still raged and the country was bitterly divided over it. In that year this reporter was the Harwich coordinator for that failed attempt to oust Mr. Keith who was hawkish on the war.
Undeterred Studds ran again in 1972, and won, becoming the first Democrat in 50 years to win what had been considered a safe Republican seat back in the days when Barnstable County was known as a conservative stronghold second only to Berkshire County.
Gerry Studds victory in that election signaled a major change in Cape Cod's political life. As he was returned to congress by ever wider margins, the cape changed in many other ways as well with more and more Greater Boston residents moving down and bringing their bid city pilics with them., mostly Democratic and liberal.
Today it is becoming rare for a Republican to win in Barnstable County. Gerry Studds served a total of twenty-four years in Congress .
Returned by voters five times after 1983 censure
Gerry Studds represented Cape Cod and the Islands, New Bedford, and the South Shore for 12 Congressional two-year terms. and was a central figure in the 1983 Congressional page sex scandal. He and Representative Dan Crane were censured by the House of Representatives for separate sexual relationships with minors, in Studds' case, a 1973 relationship with a 17-year-old male congressional page who was of the age of legal consent, according to state law at the time. The relationship was consensual, but presented ethical concerns relating to working relationships with subordinates.Studds acknowledged his homosexuality in 1983 after the page revealed he'd had a relationship with Studds a decade earlier.
After Studds was censured by the House, he came back to the Cape and Islands to answer questions in a series of public meetings with his constituents and interviews with the press. Studds defended the relationship as a consensual relationship with a young adult. The page later appeared publicly with Studds in support of him.
The scandal recently resurfaced when former Republican Rep. Mark Foley resigned after exchanging sexually explicit instant messages with a page. Republicans accused Democrats of hypocrisy for savaging Foley, but saying little about Studds at that time. He retired from Congress in 1997 after winning reelection for five more terms.
According to Boston Globe, Studds' fell unconscious on Oct. 3 because of what doctors later determined was a blood clot in his lung. He regained consciousness but remained in the hospital, and appeared to be improving until today when he died at about 1:30am today according to Dean Hara.
Studds was born in Mineola, New York and attended Yale University, from which he received a bachelor's degree in history in 1959 and a master's degree in 1961. Following graduation Studds was a foreign service officer in the State Department and then an assistant in the Kennedy White House, where he worked to establish a domestic Peace Corps. Later, he became a teacher at a St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire. In 1968 he played a key role in Eugene McCarthy's campaign in the New Hampshire presidential primary.
After retiring from congress in 1997 Studds worked as a lobbyist for the fishing industry and for two years the the executive director of the New Bedford Oceanarium. In 1996, a year before retirng, Congress named the 842-square mile Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary after him in recognition of his work protecting the marine environment.