Gerry Eastman Studds (May 12, 1937 – October 14, 2006) was an American Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts who served from 1973 until 1997. He was the first openly gay national politician in the U.S. In 1983 he was censured by the House of Representatives after he admitted to having had an affair with a 17-year-old page in 1973.
Early life and career
Studds was born in Mineola, New York. He was a descendant of Elbridge Gerry, the governor of Massachusetts who is commemorated in the word 'gerrymander'. He was the son of (Gerry) Eastman Studds (an architect who helped design the Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive in New York City) and his wife, the former Beatrice Murphy. He had a brother, Colin Studds, and a sister, Gaynor Studds (Stewart).
He attended Yale University, where he was a member of St. Anthony Hall, and 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 John F. Kennedy White House, where he worked to establish a domestic Peace Corps. Later, he became a teacher at St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire. In 1968, he played a key role in U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy's campaign in the New Hampshire presidential primary.
Career in the United States Congress
Studds made his first run for Congress in 1970, but lost to the incumbent Republican representative, Hastings Keith, in a close election. In his second bid, in 1972, Studds succeeded, becoming the first Democrat in 50 years to win what had been considered a safe Republican seat.
Studds was a central figure in the 1983 Congressional page sex scandal, when he and Representative Dan Crane were censured by the House of Representatives for separate sexual relationships with minors — in Studds' case, a 1973 sexual relationship with a 17-year-old male congressional page who was of the age of legal consent. The relationship was consensual (which made it legal, in accordance with state law) but presented ethical concerns relating to working relationships with subordinates.
During the course of the House Ethics Committee's investigation, Studds publicly acknowledged his homosexuality, a disclosure that, according to a Washington Post article, "apparently was not news to many of his constituents." Studds stated in an address to the House, "It is not a simple task for any of us to meet adequately the obligations of either public or private life, let alone both, but these challenges are made substantially more complex when one is, as I am, both an elected public official and gay." He acknowledged that it had been inappropriate to engage in a relationship with a subordinate, and said his actions represented "a very serious error in judgment."
The House voted to censure Studds, on July 20, 1983, by a vote of 420-3. While Studds has often been reported as having "turned his back on the House" as the House read its censure motion aloud, contemporary reports made it clear that in contrast to Crane, who faced the House as the motion for his censure was read, Studds faced the Speaker who was actually reading the motion, with his back to the other members. Also in contrast to Crane, who left the chamber after his censure, Studds rejoined the other members of the House after his censure was read. In addition to the censure, the Democratic leadership stripped Studds of his chairmanship of the House Merchant Marine Subcommittee. Studds was later appointed chair of the House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries. Studds received two standing ovations from supporters in his home district at his first town meeting following his congressional censure.
Studds defended his sexual relationship with the minor as a "consensual relationship with a young adult." Dean Hara, whom Studds married in 2004, said after Studds' death in 2006 that Studds had never been ashamed of the relationship with the page. "This young man knew what he was doing," Hara said. Numerous media outlets have repeated an erroneous story that the page appeared publicly at a press conference with Studds in support of him, but the stories universally fail to specify the press conference's date or give the page's name. No such press conference appears to have actually taken place. Although Studds said he disagreed with the Committee's findings of improper sexual conduct, he waived his right to public hearings on the allegations in order to protect the privacy of those involved:
- "...I have foremost in my mind the need to protect, to the extent it is still possible given the committee's action, the privacy of other individuals affected by these allegations," said Studds. "Those individuals have a right to personal privacy that would be inevitably and irremediably shattered if I were to insist on public hearings...."
- Studds said that deciding not to have a hearing "presented me with the most difficult choice I have had to make in my life."
Studds was re-elected to the House six more times after the 1983 censure. He fought for many issues, including environmental and maritime issues, same-sex marriage, AIDS funding, and civil rights, particularly for gay men and lesbians. Studds was an outspoken opponent of the Strategic Defense Initiative missile defense system, which he considered wasteful and ineffective, and he criticized the United States government's secretive support for the Contra fighters in Nicaragua.
Later years and death
After retiring from Congress in 1997, Studds worked as a lobbyist for the fishing industry. Studds previously worked for two years as executive director of the New Bedford Oceanarium, a facility still under development.
The Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, which sits at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay, is named for Studds.
Studds died on October 14, 2006 in Boston, at age 69, several days after suffering a pulmonary embolism. Due to the federal ban on same-sex marriage, Hara was not eligible to receive the pension provided to surviving spouses of former members of Congress upon Studds' death.
- 1968 In America, by Charles Kaiser.
- Housecleaning, Time, July 25, 1983
- Foley e-mail sex scandal hits the GOP hard / Questions remain about who knew what, when - and the case turns off the conservative base
- Roberts, Steven V.. "House Censures Crane and Studds For Sexual Relations With Pages", The New York Times, 1983-07-21, pp. A1, B22.
- Ovations, The Washington Post, Aug 12, 1983
- First openly gay person elected to Congress dies MSNBC, Oct 14, 2006
- Example: "Studds acknowledged for the first time that he was gay when the relationship came to light, and he held a press conference with the page during which both stated that their actions were no one else's business. Studds was easily re-elected for five more terms until he retired in 1997." (San Francisco Chronicle, October 3, 2006, pg. A1 ). The MSNBC obituary (op. cit.) also states "the page later appeared publicly with Studds in support of him", again without specifics.
- Boston Globe, July 15, 1983, pg 1.
- Cave, Damien. 2005. Gerry Studds Dies at 69; First Openly Gay Congressman. The New York Times. October 15.
- Studds, first openly gay person elected to Congress, dead at 69, CNN, October 14, 2006.
- LeBlanc, Steve. "Congressman's spouse can't have pension", Yahoo! News, Associated Press, 2006-10-18. Retrieved on 2006-10-27.
- Johansson, Warren, & Percy, William A. Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence. Harrington Park Press, 1994. pp. 156–7
- dKosopedia article on Studds
- GLBTQ Encyclopedia
- NNDB profile
- "Page Program Has Seen Scandal Before", Liz Marlantes, ABC News, Sept. 29, 2006
- Contributors to Studds' campaigns
- His 'leadership changed Mass. forever' — The Boston Globe, October 15 2006
- Gerry Studds; Gay Pioneer in Congress — The Washington Post, October 15 2006
- Annoy.com Profile: Gerry Studds Video Interview