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Gerry Studds, first openly gay person elected to Congress, dies
BOSTON -- Gerry Studds, who became the first openly gay member of Congress when his homosexuality was exposed during a teenage page sex scandal, died early Saturday. He was 69.
Studds died at Boston Medical Center several days after he collapsed while walking his dog, his husband said. Doctors determined his loss of consciousness was due to a blood clot in his lung, Dean Hara said.
Studds regained consciousness and seemed to be improving, but his condition deteriorated Friday because of a second blood clot. The origin of the second clot was not immediately determined, said Hara, who married Studds shortly after same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts in 2004.
Hara said Studds gave courage to gay people by winning re-election after publicly acknowledging his homosexuality.
"He gave people of his generation, of my generation, of future generations, the courage to do whatever they wanted to do," said Hara, 49.
Studds was first elected in 1972 and represented Cape Cod and the Islands, New Bedford and the South Shore for 12 House terms. He retired from Congress in 1997.
In his early career, Studds was known for opposing the Vietnam War and military intervention in Central America. Studds later became an advocate for a stronger federal response to the AIDS crisis and was among the first members of Congress to endorse lifting the ban on gays serving in the military.
In 1983, Studds acknowledged his homosexuality after a 27-year-old man disclosed that he and Studds had had a sexual relationship a decade earlier when the man was a teenage congressional page.
The House of Representatives censured Studds, who then went home to face his constituents in a series of public meetings.
At the time, Studds called the relationship with the teenage page, which included a trip to Europe, "a very serious error in judgment." But he did not apologize and defended the relationship as a consensual relationship with a young adult. The former page later appeared publicly with Studds in support of him.
The scandal recently resurfaced when Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., resigned after exchanging sexually explicit instant messages with a page. Republicans accused Democrats of hypocrisy for savaging Foley while saying little about Studds at that time.
Hara said Studds was never ashamed of the relationship with the page.
"This young man knew what he was doing," Hara said. "He was at (Studds') side."
Studds told his colleagues in a speech on the floor of the House that everyone faces a daily challenge of balancing public and private lives.
"These challenges are made substantially more complex when one is, as am I, both an elected public official and gay," Studds said at the time.
In Congress, Studds was an outspoken advocate for the fishing industry and was hailed by his constituents for his work establishing a limit for foreign fishing vessels 200 miles from the coast. After leaving Congress, he became a lobbyist for the fishing industry and environmental causes.
"His work on behalf of our fishing industry and the protection of our waters has guided the fishing industry into the future and ensured that generations to come will have the opportunity to love and learn from the sea," Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said in a statement. "He was a steward of the oceans."
In 1996, Congress named the 842-square-mile Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary after him in recognition of his work protecting the marine environment.
In addition to Hara, Studds is survived by a brother, a sister and four nephews.