On this date KATHY KOZACHENKO’S successful bid for a seat on the Ann Arbor, Michigan city council made her the first openly Gay or Lesbian American to win public office in the United States. Although Harvey Milk is many times mistaken for this historic first, Kozachenko’s election predates his win by a few years. But you know, she’s a woman, soooooo…
Kozachenko joined the Human Rights Party in the early 1970s. The differences between the platforms of the HRP and local Democrats dwindled, yet “Kozachenko’s run as an out Lesbian … provided her with a distinction to set her apart”. She would go on to comment that “‘the Democratic Party started to look and sound like us, so the students found no need to vote for us if they were saying the same thing, so we found something different to say'”.
As an out student at the University of Michigan, Kozachenko rallied student radicals. They supported her progressive agenda, which included a fine of no more than five dollars for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Another part of her platform included “a ceiling on the amount of profit a landlord could make from rents on a building”. Running solely against a liberal Democrat, Kozachenko was elected to the Ann Arbor City Council on April 2nd, 1974. She won the seat “representing the city’s second ward by fifty-two votes”.
Kozachenko’s HRP predecessors on the city council, Nancy Wechsler and Jerry DeGrieck, had come out as a Lesbian and a Gay man during their first and only terms on city council, thus becoming the first openly LGBT public-office holders in the United States. However, Wechsler and DeGrieck did not run for office as an open LGBTQ individual.
Kozachenko is overlooked as the first openly Gay elected official in the United States. On the day after the election in 1974, The New York Times ran an article that ignored the election of Kozachenko, and instead focused on the marijuana tax referendum. When listing the winning candidates, the Times depicted her as “a student at University of Michigan who described herself as a Lesbian”.
In 2008, a reporter at the Washington Post misguidedly commended Gus Van Sant’s Milk for “its poignancy in telling the story of the first openly Gay elected official in the United States, Harvey Milk”. It was three days before LGBTQ historian Ron Schlittler set the record straight. (You’ll pardon the expression.)
Kozachenko served one two-year term before leaving politics. She continued to work as an activist in Brooklyn and then Pittsburgh. She would later meet her long-time partner, MaryAnn Geiger (who died in 2010), and have one son.