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Rep. Studds, a Congressional Pioneer, Dead at 69


Gary Studds, the first openly gay person to serve in the U.S. Congress, died suddenly this morning at the age of 69. The 12-term former Democratic congressman represented southeastern Massachusetts.

Most of this district depends on the ocean for its economy, and Studds was known as a champion of both fishermen and the environment. He also advocated a stronger federal response in the early days of the AIDS crisis, and later he quietly urged President Clinton to lift the ban on gays serving in the military.

Mr. Studds' name has been back in the news since revelations that former Florida Congressman Mark Foley exchanged sexually explicit instant messages with a former male page. In 1983, Studds became the first representative ever to be censured by the House for sexual misconduct after an ex-page revealed that he and Studds had had an affair when the page was just 17.

But while Foley resigned immediately, Studds acknowledged his homosexuality and took his case to the voters. In a debate before the 1984 primary, Studds was challenged by his Democratic opponent and received the support of his constituents.

(Soundbite of 1984 debate)

Unidentified Man #1: I simply would like you to explain to these people tonight, as you have refused to do for a year, why your relationship with a teenage page would be any different than a sexual relationship between a teacher and a student.

(Soundbite of jeering crowd)

Unidentified Man #2: Mr. Studds, you have 30 seconds to reply.

Representative GARY STUDDS (Democrat, Massachusetts): That's the easiest question I've ever been asked. There wasn't anything right about it. It was a damn stupid and inappropriate thing to do, and I never said anything else.

LYDEN: Studds went on to win that election and five more. He retired in 1997. Studds and his long-time partner, Dean Harrah(ph), were among the first gay couples to wed in Massachusetts. According to Harrah, the former congressman collapsed on a walk last week. Doctors diagnosed a blood clot in his lung. Studds died today in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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