It Happened at Michigan — Breaking barriers and making gay rights history


A University of Michigan student who campaigned in residence halls and student neighborhoods made history in 1974 by becoming the country’s first openly gay elected official.

As a senior, Kathy Kozachenko won a seat on the Ann Arbor City Council in April 1974.

Photo of Kathy Kozachenko
Kathy Kozachenko

Campaigning as a member of the Human Rights Party, Kozachenko was 21 and living in the Residential College, where she studied literature and creative writing. She enrolled at U-M after graduating in 1970 from nearby Plymouth High School.

“I wanted to go to the most radical university I could find. Berkeley and U-M were, and I was lucky that one was less than a half hour from where I lived,” she said earlier this year on “The Gayest Generation,” an Ann Arbor District Library podcast.

She campaigned when the women’s and gay rights movements were gaining momentum nationwide. She was involved with a local lesbian group called the Gay Awareness Women’s Kollective and the Washtenaw County Advisory Committee on the Status of Women.

Kozachenko successfully ran against Mary Richman, a Democrat and U-M law student, for the Second Ward council seat representing the campus and many student neighborhoods. She prevailed by 52 votes.

A photo of two women
Kathy Kozachenko (right) and her campaign opponent, fellow U-M student Mary Richman. (Image: Ann Arbor District Library)

While Kozachenko did not hide her sexual orientation — she came out while a U-M student — she did not make it a focal part of her bid for office.

“Both candidates supported gay rights. But 10 years ago, or even three years ago, lesbianism would have meant automatic defeat,” she said after the election.

She was more focused on the goals of the Human Rights Party, as well as local ballot issues calling for rent control and a $5 municipal fine for marijuana possession. Editors at the Michigan Daily endorsed Kozachenko and the two ballot questions. While voters supported the pot fine, they rejected rent control.

Kozachenko, who did not seek re-election after serving one two-year term, now lives in Pittsburgh. City Council recently voted to commission a statue of her to be unveiled outside City Hall when Ann Arbor observes its bicentennial in 2024.


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