ann arbor city council

APRIL 2: Kathy Kozachenko is elected on the Ann Arbor city council (1974)

We’ve already talked about a few lesbian/bi public figures running for office and winning, but today we’d like to introduce you to a real trailblazer: the first openly gay candidate to run for public office and win. Meet Kathy Kozachenko who, on April 2nd, 1974, was elected onto the Ann Arbor city council.

There are several things that make Kozachenko’s election pretty special: she was a woman, openly lesbian, and she belonged to neither of the two major political parties in the US since she ran on the ticket of the Human Rights Party, a local, radical, and progressive party. Funnily enough, the decision to be out during her campaign was not one she really cared about: when the campaign manager came up with the idea, she just rolled with it and, well, kicked ass.

She had predecessors, too: Nancy Wechsler and Jerry DeGrieck, who were also members of the HRP and gay; but here’s the catch: they didn’t come out until after their election onto the city council in 1972.

When Kozachenko won, her landmark victory was largely ignored by the newspapers: a third-party out lesbian getting elected in public office was apparently not headline fodder. This erasure still continues today, since we’re prompt to remember people like Harvey Milk while many other figures have been swept aside. (We’ve already written about Elaine Noble who, in November 1974, a few months after Kozachenko’s victory, was elected as a state rep, becoming the first out person to win this kind of public office, but who’s also often forgotten in mainstream political history.)

Kozachenko served one term on the council, until 1976, when she headed to NY and Pittsburgh, and continued her activist work there. In 1984, she met her lifelong partner, MaryAnn Geiger (who passed away in 2010), and in 1987, gave birth to her son, Justin. Politics largely receded from her life around then, as it seems she didn’t want Justin to be weighed down by the contemporary stigma against lesbian mothers, and she needed to be more cautious about her visibility.

Overall, not much is known about her life, though a 2015 Bloomberg article did a thorough investigative piece on her, trying to rectify the erasure of which she was a victim. The article ends with this quote: though Kathy left politics soon after her time on the city council, and never really went back to being political involved, she understood how inspirational her decision to campaign as an out third-party lesbian was, and still is:

“I don’t think I was brave, because I was in a college town where it was cool to be who I was,” she says. “On the other hand, I stepped up and did what I felt needed to be done at the time. Maybe that’s the whole story, that ordinary people can do something that then other people later can look back on and feel really good that they did this.”

-AK