Representative Gerry Studds served the Massachusetts South Shore, Cape Cod, and New Bedford congressional district from 1973 to 1997. During his first decade in the House he helped pass legislation that protected American fishermen from overfishing by international boats and limited President Ronald Reagan’s wars in Central America.
The defining moment of his career, however, came in 1983, when he was censured by the House for having had an affair with a page ten years previously. On the floor of Congress, Studds confessed to having behaved inappropriately and then courageously declared that he was a gay man—becoming the country’s first openly gay member of Congress. Defying all expectations, Studds won reelection in a bruising campaign. For the rest of his career, he remained loyal to his constituents’ concerns while also championing AIDS research and care, leading the effort in Congress to allow gays and lesbians to serve in the military, and opposing the Defense of Marriage Act. Once a deeply conflicted man, he ultimately found a balance between his public service and his private life, which included a happy, legally recognized marriage.