BOSTON – Former U.S. Rep. Gerry Studds, the first openly gay person elected to Congress, died early Saturday at Boston Medical Center, several days after he collapsed while walking his dog, his husband said. He was 69.
Studds fell unconscious Oct. 3 because of what doctors later determined was a blood clot in his lung, Dean Hara said.
Studds regained consciousness, remained in the hospital, and seemed to be improving. He was scheduled to be transferred to a rehabilitation center, but his condition deteriorated Friday and he died at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, Hara said.
Hara, who married Studds shortly after gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts in 2004, said Studds was a pioneer who gave courage to gay people everywhere by winning re-election after publicly acknowledging his homosexuality.
"He gave people of his generation, or my generation, of future generations, the courage to do whatever they wanted to do," said Harra, 49.
Studds was first elected in 1972 and represented Cape Cod and the Islands, New Bedford, and the South Shore for 12 Congressional terms. He retired from Congress in 1997.
In 1983, Studds acknowledged his homosexuality after the page revealed he'd had a relationship with Studds a decade earlier, when the page was 17. Studds was censured for sexual misconduct by the House, then went home to his constituents to answer questions in a series of public meetings and interviews with the press.
Studds defended the relationship as a consensual relationship with a young adult. The page later appeared publicly with Studds in support of him. The scandal recently resurfaced when former Republican Rep. Mark Foley resigned after exchanging sexually explicit instant messages with a page. Republicans accused Democrats of hypocrisy for savaging Foley, but 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 left Congress and became a lobbyist for the fishing industry and environmental causes.
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.