|CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Joe Herzenberg, North Carolina’s first openly gay elected official and a founder of the Equality North Carolina Political Action Committee (ENC PAC), died of complications from diabetes at the age of 66 on Sunday, Oct. 28.
A native of New Jersey, Herzenberg earned a B.A. and M.A. from Yale University. In 1964, he was a volunteer for the historic “Freedom Summer” in Mississippi where he helped African-Americans register to vote.
In 1969, Herzenberg moved to Chapel Hill. His first race for the Chapel Hill Town Council resulted in a narrow defeat in 1979. He was later appointed to the council when the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill student Gerry Cohen resigned his position.
Herzenberg lost his general election bid for the seat. But, unwilling to give up, in 1987 he finally became the state’s first openly gay elected official when he claimed a spot on the council. He served until 1993.
Within the LGBT community, Herzenberg helped to establish ENC and served on the agency’s board for more than a decade. He also mentored future openly gay elected officials, including Chapel Hill Town Councilmember Mark Kleinschmidt and Orange County Commissioner Mike Nelson.
This month marks the 20th anniversary of Herzenberg’s milestone election. ENC had planned to honor Herzenberg with an award at their Nov. 3 conference and gala. Instead, the event was held in his memory. Commissioner Nelson, an ENC board member, spoke in remembrance of Herzenberg.
“Tonight, instead of presenting Joe with an award, we pay tribute, we remember, and we say farewell to a great friend,” he said, adding that Herzenberg is an inspiration for all LGBT North Carolinians.
In lieu of flowers, Herzenberg’s friends and family have requested that contributions be made in his honor to the Interfaith Alliance (www.interfaithalliance-nc.org) or ENC PAC