Midge Costanza, an aide to President Jimmy Carter who handled the first White House meeting with gay leaders, died of cancer Tuesday in San Diego. She was 77.
Costanza was assistant to the president for public liaison in the Carter administration. She was the first woman to serve as an assistant to the president. Her duties included linking the administration with such marginalized groups as gays and lesbians, the elderly, and the disabled.
On March 26, 1977, at the request of the National Gay Task Force (now the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force), Costanza met with gay activists including Frank Kameny, Troy Perry, Elaine Noble, and Task Force co–executive directors Bruce Voeller and Jean O’Leary. The meeting was a major milestone in terms of gay access to the White House, according to those present.
Carter received intense criticism for allowing the meeting. “Anita Bryant back then wanted my resignation, as did many of the right-wing groups,” Costanza said at an NGLTF press conference in 2007 observing the 30th anniversary of the event. “More mail was generated from that meeting than from any other issue during Jimmy Carter’s administration.”
Costanza later moved to California and remained an advocate for women’s and LGBT rights. She worked in Barbara Boxer’s first campaign for the U.S. Senate, in 1992, and most recently she was public affairs officer for San Diego County district attorney Bonnie Dumanis. She was also an adjunct professor at San Diego State University, where she founded the Midge Costanza Institute, dedicated to the study of politics and public policy.
Survivors include a brother and several nieces and nephews. Chicago’s Windy City Times has a full obit of Costanza here.