Even the pushback she encountered campaigning was relatively mild, Kozachenko said. She recalled knocking on the door of a man who told her he was a born-again Christian but would vote for Kozachenko anyway because “God works in mysterious ways.” 

“I was touched that he had an open mind and was voting for the person and not being straitjacketed by things he might have been taught in his religion,” Kozachenko said. “Now … we’re in a very scary time in our country where people’s religious views are pushing back some of the progress, some of the rights that we won when I was in college 50 years ago.” 

Kozachenko ultimately chose not to seek a second two-year term because she stopped viewing the City Council as “an effective means” to make change in the causes she cared about. 

“My goal was never to be a ‘politician.’ It was to work for social and economic justice,” she said. 

After Kozachenko’s historic feat, other openly gay lawmakers soon followed. In November 1974, seven months later, Elaine Noble won a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, becoming the first openly gay person elected to a state legislature. Three years later, in 1977, Milk won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, a position he held for just 10 months before he was assassinated, along with the city’s mayor, by a former colleague. 

“In 1974, we had one out LGBTQ+ elected official. Today we have 1,275. She was the spark that has changed the face of politics in the U.S. and around the globe,” said Elliot Imse, executive director of the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute.

‘An important piece of American history’

The city of Ann Arbor is celebrating its role in LGBTQ history by raising money for a statue of Kozachenko to be erected outside City Hall. 

Mayor Christopher Taylor said the city’s bicentennial, which coincides with the 50th anniversary of Kozachenko’s election, seemed like an opportune time to recognize her and “this important component of LGBTQ history.” 

“This is very much an effort that is supported by the local community, and we as a municipal organization and larger community are just so excited and proud that this important piece of American history was made right here in Ann Arbor,” Taylor told NBC News.

Kozachenko said her family is proud of her place in LGBTQ history.
Kozachenko said her family is proud of her place in LGBTQ history.Sarah Huny Young for NBC News

As for Kozachenko, she’s keeping the celebration small. She plans to gather with close friends to mark the anniversary, but she said the real commemoration will come in the form of political activism, by volunteering to help register voters for the November election and advocating for candidates who would protect LGBTQ rights, support Ukraine in its war against Russia and safeguard abortion access, among other progressive policies. 

“I’ve come to realize that part of the significance of my election and my place in LGBTQ history is the fact that I advocate for the importance of movements working together and the importance of seeing that the fight for justice is a common fight,” she said. 

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