Trailblazing gay rights activist and U.S. diplomat Tom Gallagher has passed away.
Gallagher, who made a name for himself as the first Foreign Service officer to come out as gay, succumbed to complications associated with a bacterial infection on July 8 in Tinton Falls, N.J., reports The New York Times. He died at age 77 and is survived by his husband, Amin Dulkumoni, whom he married in 2017.
Gallagher first publicly disclosed his sexual orientation during a 1975 Gay Activist Alliance conference in Washington, D.C. Three years prior, his marriage to a woman had ended—and the gay rights movement in the U.S. began to pick up steam. Though he knew that coming out would put his career with the State Department and Foreign Service in jeopardy, he felt that it was important to not hide who he was.
“At the end of my speech [at the conference], a member of the audience asked what the State Department thought about my sex life,” he recalled in an interview with his alma mater, Monmouth University. “I replied that they didn’t know. ’I guess this is a coming out party,’ I said, to a rousing standing ovation.”
A year later, Gallagher left the Foreign Service, knowing that his sexuality would be scrutinized if he wanted to retain the required security clearances to do his job. He then moved to San Francisco, where he began a new career path as a social worker. He spent the next 20 years working closely with sex workers and AIDS patients before returning to the State Department under President Bill Clinton in 1994.
He retired in 2005 and was later honored by Hillary Clinton at a 2012 event for LGBTQ State Department employees.