David Mixner | News

A New Year's Reflection on the Fight for Full Equality

BY DAVID MIXNER

GuestbloggerOver the holidays while attending a dinner party, I met a young guest about 25-years-old. As on most occasions, the dinner table conversation consisted of the enormous progress around marriage equality. The young man passionately spoke up and said, "You know if the Supreme Court rules that marriage is a constitutional right then most of our fight is over."

My head jerked up at this statement (and while there will still be much more to do) it was like hearing someone proclaim, "the war is over!"

Couldn't quite shake his statement out of my head because for me 'the war' has raged brutally for my 66 years of life.

MixnerIn my youth, the stories were of police raids on gay bars, community leaders being disgraced and arrested in parks, LGBT political events broken up by police and families forcing their children to have lobotomies to cure them of being gay. My friend Freddy Davies committed suicide at 16 and my Dad said his family was better off because of it.

It was a time of shame, fear and self hatred. Every institution in our lives — from family to church — thought we were so bad they urged us to lie to them and stay in the closet. Forget the virtue of truth and honesty that was so revered in America. They begged us to keep our shameful secret to ourselves and not visit it on the community or family.

Then, as some of us slowly began to come out in the 1970's and form new community organizations to give us safe places to express ourselves, we found that because of it many of us lost our families, jobs and place in the community. Anita Bryant launched her hate campaign on the ballots in 1977 and 1978 which was stopped by the defeat of Proposition Six (the Briggs Initiative) in California.

When I came out in 1976 people in the Democratic Party mostly abandoned me. Candidates to whom I had contributed returned checks and refused to allow me to endorse them. I helped form the first political PAC called MECLA and we raised a grand total of $40,000 in the first year. When I would ask for a check for the PAC often it would be for $99 because anything $100 or above would have to be reported. Nevertheless, the late 1970's was for the community and me a time of great progress.

The AIDS epidemic stopped us in our tracks.

In the early years, society completed abandoned us and we died in the tens of thousands. Few politicians (Ted Kennedy, Phil Burton, Henry Waxman, etc) spoke up and fought by our side. ACT-UP and new national organizations were formed to fight back and attempt to save our gay brothers' lives. Personally, it was a time of horror as over 300 friends died and I gave at least 90 eulogies. I'd go to funerals of young men on Saturday morning or afternoon and then dancing Saturday night. A good part of my middle age was totally dominated by HIV/AIDS. It was a darkness that is still hard for me to discuss or think about even decades later.

In 1988, Randy Klose, Duke Comegys, David Wexler and I decided we had to elect a Democrat for President. With our friends' contacts and our own, we figured we could bundle over a million dollars for Governor Dukakis which would be a historical first for the LGBT community. We were told by his staff point-blank that they could not accept such a large amount of LGBT-identified money and they turned the donation down.

3_mixnerIn 1992, the LGBT delegates had to threaten a public walkout at the Convention just to force Bill Clinton to include the word 'gay' in his acceptance speech. It took every political chip we had to have him speak at the Hollywood Palace to an all LGBT audience and the staff opposed it to the end. Ironically, it was a turning point for him. His "I Have A Vision" Speech" generated thousands of volunteers and millions of dollars from the community for his campaign.

While in the end 1992 was an incredible political year for LGBT Americans, we would still face great obstacles even from a LGBT-friendly President. While he made a number of key appointments, President Clinton was also responsible for two of the most horrible pieces of legislation directed at the LGBT community. His team was the architect of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (DADT) which ended up destroying over 14,000 careers. He followed that with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which we are currently fighting in the courts and is a major barrier to marriage equality today.

Wh_mixnerOutraged over DADT, a group of us were arrested in front of the White House to protest the coming horror of the policy. While the President received a stunning amount of support from the community, those arrested were shunned by the Democratic Party. In fact, I was personally attacked by many for getting arrested. However, as the Quakers say, we have to give witness to great evil even if that evil is supported by popular opinion.

Even in the past 10 years, some top level LGBT activists were urging candidates to exercise caution on supporting marriage equality. Some of our national organizations and many leaders, into 2012, were urging President Obama to not take a stance on same-sex marriage until after the election. It was very frustrating to be fighting the battle for marriage equality and to hear other leaders urge him to take a pass.

During this time I personally realized that the community could never make progress if we gave our allies permission to not support us. Even if our friends became uncomfortable for advocating for full equality, it was not our job to make them comfortable as a criteria for our freedom. A true representative can never advocate partial freedom, separate but equal, or counsel patience in the face of horrific oppression.

Over a lifetime, I have lived in fear as a gay man, survived a horror and darkness that I never dreamed could exist, found the strength to stand with my community, learned not to live to please others, and witnessed great progress.

Who knows? 'The war' might soon be over!

What I do know personally is we have already won in so many ways. There are LGBT dances in high school and college, we are getting married, we are creating families, there are weddings at West Point, soldiers serving their country openly, fewer people dying of AIDS, and our young will be mostly be spared a tough, bitter and at times brutal journey that had to be taken to get to this moment in our history.

That is a good reason for me to celebrate and say to you all with deep passion, tears and joy - Happy New Year.

You can visit David Mixner online at his blog at DavidMixner.com.

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Comments

  1. David - thank you very much for putting into words the thoughts and feelings and experiences with which I can identify. Also, thank you for your integrity and the fight you have fought on our behalf.

    Posted by: Jack Snow | Dec 28, 2012 11:02:56 AM


  2. Thanks for sharing, David! And thank you for all your hard work over the years that have helped our community finally get to this point. Happy New Year!

    Posted by: MattNYC | Dec 28, 2012 11:08:32 AM


  3. Well put. Thank you!

    Now in my mid-fifties,I,too remember a time not all that long ago when we were outright told by others in the Democratic Party to tone it down, we were only 1% of the population, not to push things.
    Well, we aren't 1%, we're at least 5% of the self-reporting electorate.
    Climbing back into the closet has always been to admit to our enemies, the christers, that we think they're right.
    Silence=Death is what I snarled back at our last county caucus, and more people clapped than put on that disapproving face we all know so well.

    Sure, we could lose it all in the blink of an eye. Germany was further than we are when the you-know-who took over. But we have to keep on fighting.

    We can have peace or freedom. Not both. I'm so glad David chose freedom. He has fought for all of us.

    Posted by: enough already | Dec 28, 2012 11:14:15 AM


  4. Yes, there are fewer people dying of AIDS thanks to advances in treatment, but new HIV infections are on the rise for gay men. We must recommit ourselves to promoting safe-sex, aka condom use. Remember, there will always be a next generation of gay men, and safe sex practices need to be drilled into their head. We are failing at doing that right now.

    Posted by: Mawm | Dec 28, 2012 11:20:05 AM


  5. David.
    I'm a bit teary reading your summary, having experienced many of the same gains and losses you annotate.
    The Gay Generation Gap might very well be our next agenda - for too many years the stigma of "predatory" colored the ability of older folks mentoring younger folks. Our history must be shared.
    I hope, too, that the role of the American churches can be reduced.
    I look forward to many more years of reading your insightful pieces, and wish us all peace and health in 2013.

    Posted by: Wavin' Dave | Dec 28, 2012 11:23:15 AM


  6. Bravo! It is SO important to tell our stories, and I can't thank you enough, David!

    As a younger person, I realize that it is nothing but crucial to know your (=our) backstory!

    Have a Happy and Healthy New Year!

    Posted by: El | Dec 28, 2012 11:23:49 AM


  7. Beautiful. Thank you, and God bless you.

    Posted by: Anon | Dec 28, 2012 11:33:34 AM


  8. It's true, in the 80's society abandoned gay men because of the AIDS crisis. And nowadays gay men are abandoning each other by practicing unsafe sex with each other because the illness is "manageable." I haven't done a study and have no statistics on hand to prove it but I do feel a marked difference in the the use of condoms as opposed to during the 90's when I first became sexually active. Back then condoms were a given, you didn't even think about "barebacking" (there was no word for it back then). Now, it seems the guys who have condoms with them or reach for them "in the moment" are fewer and fewer. I'd say they are in the minority. Am I the only one who senses this? Please, someone tell me other wise because I'd be happy to be disabused of my point of view on this.

    Posted by: David | Dec 28, 2012 11:39:56 AM


  9. Mr. Mixner, I appreciate you more than you know. I am a southern, white, straight femail GLBT activist, and you have been and always will be an inspiration. However, because I live in and work for equality in Tennessee, I urge you to rethink. The war is no where near over. Unless they are a city employee in Memphis, Knoxville, Nashville, and Oak Ridge or work for a company that happens to have protections, my Tennessee GlBT brothers and sisters have no work place protectiosn. Even if in July - even if they can get wonderfully married in the available states with possible federal beenfits to follow here, if they go public with that marrige, their boss can walk in and ask them to leave their job. There is no recourse. The same is true for hoursing and public accomodations here in Tennessee. There is no equality here. This is true in 38 other states as well. Until my GLBT brothers and sisters are included in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the war is not over. The battle of marriage equality may soon be over, but much work remains.

    I celebrate the work for marriage and its great success. It is amazing to see the social norms change along with the laws, but let remember the hundreds of thousands of GLBT people in this country who work unprotected and must remain closted because of the bigotry that remains.

    Thank you again for your life's work, and I think of the lyric in "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" - "There is a grief that cannot be spoken. . ." when I think of the loss you have suffered. Unimaginable. So, I honor you, sir, and I honor the GLBT folks in this country who continue to seek workplace equality and poroteciotns in public accomodations and housing.

    Thank you.

    Posted by: Southerngirl | Dec 28, 2012 11:42:07 AM


  10. SO glad that David has the heart and courage to press on, many great advocates died in the epidemic, but luckily we have someone who dug in his feet for the entire LGBT community. We are now witnessing the fruits of his labor!!

    Posted by: ty | Dec 28, 2012 11:44:13 AM


  11. I accidentally posted the above before I proofread. So sorry the import of what I was saying was negatively impacted by transpositions and obvious misspellings.

    Posted by: Southerngirl | Dec 28, 2012 11:46:01 AM


  12. I accidentally posted the above before I proofread. So sorry the import of what I was saying was negatively impacted by transpositions and obvious misspellings.

    Posted by: Southerngirl | Dec 28, 2012 11:46:02 AM


  13. I'm 25 myself and I loved what you said David! I interned with the Vote No campaign here in Minnesota, and many of the guys I worked with were 50+. Their stories about what they went through were so inspiring to say the least. It makes me so much more greatful to be growing up at this time, and I look forward to what is sure to be a monumental year for us!

    Posted by: Stefan | Dec 28, 2012 11:53:57 AM


  14. "Even in the past 10 years, some top level LGBT activists were urging candidates to exercise caution on supporting marriage equality."


    David is too polite to name names, so I will: the Human Rights Campaign exists to give politicians cover, not to advance gay rights. HRC advised Obama not to push the repeal of DADT. HRC advised Obama not to come out in favor of gay marriage.

    If you want to pay for political operatives to throw fancy cocktail parties in DC, then give your money to HRC. If you want to advance LGBT rights in this country, give your time and money to organizations that are actually fighting the fight. (For my money that means Freedom to Marry, Immigration Equality, Outserve/SLDN, and other local and national groups on the front lines.)

    Posted by: BABH | Dec 28, 2012 11:59:14 AM


  15. I agree with everything you recounted about being gay. For me, even though I was happy enough with myself and among intelligent family and friends the big disappointment was in finding other gay men who I would have liked to be with openly who could not accept publicly exposing their gayness. So many lost opportunities.

    The nightmare of HIV/AIDs became apparent about 1982 and was an enormous setback only now beginning to fade, but it did not end the progress in acceptance of gayness as a natural human condition.

    Here's to better times and opportunities!

    Thanks for your reflections, they mirror my own.

    Posted by: Merry & Gay | Dec 28, 2012 12:05:19 PM


  16. You can never share recollections of your efforts enough, David. And we can never thank you fully for being such a leader and inspirer. You are a gift to this world.

    Posted by: Daniel T Gramkee | Dec 28, 2012 12:12:30 PM


  17. Amazing.Thank you David.Thank you for fighting for young gay men like me. <3

    Posted by: Miguel | Dec 28, 2012 12:18:57 PM


  18. David:

    I can't match the eloquent words of those posted before me but thank you all the same. I met my lover (now husband)at an Anita Bryant protest in 1979. Yes, she was still speaking to small colleges in Appalachia after the Briggs defeat. We were able to pay for the wonderful Frank Kameny to come and speak at our protest. I am still inspired by his courage. You too keep the fires burning until prejudice is finally no longer a threat.

    Posted by: turing's ghost | Dec 28, 2012 12:23:14 PM


  19. Great Post. Thanks for sharing, David.

    Posted by: chasmader | Dec 28, 2012 12:26:48 PM


  20. As part of the pioneering generation that David is part of, I do think we can allow ourselves some self-congratulations at this point in our lives.

    If you step back and look at what is happening in an historical context, it is truly one of the most amazing developments in human history.

    The taboo against homosexuality is ancient, as old as our species, itself--and with the exception of a few isolated societies like the Asmat in New Guinea and some highly proscribed "ritualized" homosexual relationships, usually in the form of pedophilia--as in ancient Greece and modern Afghanistan......that taboo has been virtually universal for millenia.

    The generation that David and I belong to here in the United States was the first in the history of the world to stand up for ourselves and reject the notion that there was something wrong with us and that we deserved to be accepted the way we were, as men whose attraction to other men was as natural and as much a part of life as heterosexual attraction. That we are gradually succeeding in doing away with the ancient taboo against homosexuality is astounding, given how deep-seated that taboo is and how small a group we are.

    And that this change is taking place globally rather than being confined to the West, although it has advanced farther in the West than elsewhere, is indicative of how profound a phenomenon this is in the history of our species.

    So whatever our failings or successes as individuals, our generation can take great pride in the fact that as a collectivity, we--"a lonely band of brothers" to quote Shakespeare--really and truly will have changed the world, forever.

    And I do.

    Posted by: Rick | Dec 28, 2012 12:34:13 PM


  21. Great things are happening! And our world has improved a thousand fold.
    But we are still not dealing with HIV. And we are not imposing adult standards on our community.
    We're still blaming others for our failures. See Mixner on Clinton above, or tune into JMG any day of the week to see the queers waste their time obsessing about the far right.
    We have a lot of work to do. Most of it is in recognizing and removing our internalized homophobia.
    We also have a ton of things to be thankful for, and I for one will remember them on Tuesday night.

    Posted by: Wilberforce | Dec 28, 2012 12:57:12 PM


  22. Wow !
    Thank you.....it has truly been a Trail of Tears.
    But your young friend may be nearly right , the war may be almost won on equality......but it will never be won while one boy or girl feels that he/she is lesser because of his/her homosexuality.
    But such advances in so few years due to fearless heroes such as David !!!! wow...
    Our goals are:
    no more denigration; no more suicides; no more bullying; no more discrimination in the workplace......we have to end DOMA and enact ENDA.
    But we can rejoice with David and with what has happened over the years, it's like the words of Siegfried Sassoon:
    "The singing will never be done."

    Posted by: JackFknTwist | Dec 28, 2012 1:10:55 PM


  23. @enoughalready
    "Germany was further than we are when the you-know-who took over."

    How was the Weimar Republic ahead of present-day USA with respect to LGBT rights.

    Posted by: F Young | Dec 28, 2012 2:12:10 PM


  24. David-

    Thank you for sharing your story and being a guiding light for the community.

    History is key to any future and the ability to have you remind us of where we've come from (I'm in my 40's and know of many of those places) to where we are heading is vital. As a gay community (ie. and I don't mean the many entitled queens on Fire Island Pines, for those thinking that is our gay leadership community) must safeguard our history and use it as a shield to continue the fight.

    Happy 2013!

    Todd

    Posted by: Todd | Dec 28, 2012 2:28:11 PM


  25. David is one of my heroes, and was a thrilling speaker at a 2009 DADT protest I organized. But while there is much to admire in this essay, I was saddened to see his poor word choice in relation to the conversion of the decades-old military ban on gays into DADT in 1993. While Clinton made MANY mistakes in that battle, including ultimately surrendering, asserting that his team was the "architect" of DADT is a bridge too far. For instance, nongay ally and former Coast Guard MCPO Vince Patton revealed he resigned from the military working group Clinton assigned to come up with a plan for LIFTING the ban when it became clear they were determined to do the opposite—construct justifications for keeping it. "Unfriendly Fire" author Nathaniel Frank's summary is as good as any:

    "Looking back, we can see that don't ask, don't tell was the result of three different forces operating together and reinforcing one another-and all three rested on a belief that homosexuality was morally objectionable. The first was the conflicted feelings of the American public and, even more so, the military population. ... The second was the powerful empire of conservative Christian groups that made maintaining the gay ban into their cause célèbre. The extraordinary alliance of the religious right laid the elaborate groundwork for the successful campaign that convinced America that it would let gays serve their country at considerable peril. And the third source was the personal opposition to gay service of academic, political, and military leaders such as Charles Moskos, Sam Nunn, and Colin Powell. ... The new Clinton White House and the existing cadre of gay advocacy groups were totally unprepared for the opposition they would encounter.... In the hands of the religious right, Moskos's privacy concerns quickly morphed into sweeping homophobic declarations that homosexuality threatened to destroy the military and, ultimately, Western civilization."

    Similarly, the revisionist "[Clinton] followed that with [DOMA]" would certainly be knews to the bill's author, then-Congressman and arch Clinton hater Bob Barr. And before anyone chimes in with, "But he signed both bills," yes, that's true, but any attempt to veto them while admirable would have been entirely futile as both passed with huge, veto-proof margins.

    In any case, the suggestion that he was the architect of either bill is simply factually wrong.

    Posted by: Michael Bedwell | Dec 28, 2012 2:57:12 PM


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