News release from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:
WASHINGTON, March 24 — The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force mourns the loss of Margaret “Midge” Costanza, 77, who died yesterday in California after a battle with cancer. Costanza was a part of the historic first meeting between a presidential administration and gay and lesbian rights leaders, including Task Force co-chairs and board members. That meeting took place March 26, 1977.
Costanza was at the time an adviser to then-President Jimmy Carter, and director of the Office of Public Liaison at the White House. She met with openly gay and lesbian leaders for briefing on critical policy issues affecting the community. The meeting was a critical milestone for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in terms of access to the country’s most powerful leadership.
The criticism of the Carter White House that followed was intense. Appearing on television’s Face the Nation, Carter press secretary Jody Powell responded, saying, “Costanza was only doing her job when she used the Office of Public Liaison to allow groups to present issues that they would like the administration to address.” Costanza too responded by consistently noting that “a basic tenet of American government is the right of citizens to petition that government.”
"We are saddened by the loss of Midge Costanza and offer our condolences to her friends and family," said Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey. "She took a risk in working to ensure our voices were heard at the highest echelons of government. In this regard, she was a pioneer, and for this, we will forever be grateful."
In 2007, the Task Force held a 30-year anniversary conference call with Costanza and other attendees of this historic meeting. Listen to a podcast of the call here.
Costanza further recounted what it was like to be part of that historic meeting in these quotes:
- “Thirty years ago, I received a phone call from Jean O’Leary and Bruce Voeller, the co-executive directors of the National Gay Task Force. What they said was, ‘It is time. It is time that a government we helped choose and a government we help pay for no longer discriminate against us. We want to talk — and we want to talk in the White House.’ And I agreed. Certainly the constitution demanded that everyone be represented under those laws, and that would include gays and lesbians.”
- “I made the comment that I wished the citizens of this nation could have joined me in that room to listen to the examples of oppression that I heard today. Perhaps the issue of homosexuality would be better understood and perhaps more widely accepted if they could have heard what I did.”
- “Anita Bryant back then wanted my resignation, as did many of the right-wing groups.”
Read more about the historic meeting and its 30th anniversary here.
Costanza recently served as a professor at San Diego State University in the political science, communication and women's studies departments. She also founded the Midge Costanza Institute for the Study of Politics and Public Policy.