The DNA-binding protein Ume6 is required for both repression and activation of meiosis-specific genes, through interaction with the Sin3 corepressor and Rpd3 histone deacetylase and the meiotic activator Ime1. Here we show that fusion of a heterologous activation domain to Ume6 is unable to convert it into a constitutive activator of early meiotic gene transcription, indicating that an additional function is needed to overcome repression at these promoters. Mutations in UME6 allowing the fusion to activate lie in a predicted amphipathic alpha helix and specifically disrupt interaction with Sin3 but not with Teal, an activator of Ty transcription also found to interact with Ume6 in a two-hybrid screen. The mutations cause a loss of repression by Ume6 and precisely identify the Ume6 Sin3-binding domain, which we show interacts with the paired amphipathic helix 2 region of Sin3. Analysis of these mutants indicates that conversion of Ume6 to an activator involves two genetically distinct steps that act to relieve Sin3-mediated repression and provide an activation domain to Ume6. The mutants further demonstrate that premature expression and lack of subsequent rerepression of Ume6-Sin3-regulated genes are not deleterious to meiotic progression and suggest that the essential role of Sin3 in meiosis is independent of Ume6. The model for Ume6 function arising from these studies indicates that Ume6 is similar in many respects to metazoan regulators that utilize Sin3, such as the Myc-Mad-Max system and nuclear hormone receptors, and provides new insights into the control of transcriptional repression and activation by the Ume6-URS1 regulatory complex in yeast.