David Mixner’s been in the political fray for over forty years, since Martin Luther King inspired the burgeoning activist’s social responsbility.
In the years that followed, Mixner fought battles great and small, worked inside campaigns, got arrested protesting unjust wars, joined the McGovern Commission – which rewrote the Democratic party’s rules – and would later rally gays around his old friend Bill Clinton, whom Mixner met while crusading against the Vietnam War. Mixner went on to join Clinton’s campaign and became the first openly gay man actively – and very publicly – involved in a presidential election.
Those were optimistic times, but Clinton would later break with Mixner by signing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which prohibits openly gay soldiers from serving in the military. Furious over Clinton’s apparent betrayal, Mixner came out against the discriminatory policy, a move which ended up getting him booted from the inner circle. Of course, Mixner’s always been more comfortable on the outside. In fact, he describes himself as “the best outsider on the inside.”
Now, as we charge toward November, Mixner’s hoping to bring the gays to another Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama. During a recent conference call with the Senator’s campaign, Mixner invoked the Clinton campaign, saying:
[This is] probably for the first time since the 1992 convention, we have an extraordinary opportunity to make history as a community. We have four months to do it, so we must gather and unite in our opposition to McCain and in an opportunity to really create something special in this country – not only for the country, but for ourselves and future generations of LGBT people.
Considering Mixner’s mixed career, editor Andrew Belonsky chose to start this interview on a decidedly untraditional note…
Andrew Belonsky: When was the last time you cried, David Mixner?
David Mixner: Um, outside Gone with the Wind. [Laughs.] No. Well, I think the World Trade Center was the last time.
AB: You’re not a big crier?
DM: I used to be, but you ran out of tears during the AIDS epidemic. I lost over 200, near 300 friends. You just learn to give the British stiff upper lip; otherwise you would have been crying day in and day out. You just had to get on with life. Also, my friends who were sick needed me to be strong. I certainly cried when my partner died. I cried when certain friends died and I used to cry all the time, but we just had to be strong. And we were.
AB: How long did it take you to get over your lover Peter Scott’s death? Or have you not?
DM: No. You never get over that kind of thing. What we went through was in itself a horror. To look back and realize that in two years I did 90 eulogies for men under 40. It seems incomprehensible and it almost seems as if I’m looking at someone else back there. To get old – I’m 62 – older and not have peers to share a path with, to laugh about stories – it’s very tough. I talk to a lot of gay men who are survivors like myself and I find that they’re going through the same thing. It’s an extremely lonely existence, as you get older to realize that the people with whom we’d normally be doing things are no longer here.
AB: Are you a religious person?
DM: I am very spiritual, although I don’t practice any organized religion right now, but I believe in God and I pray and it’s a key part of my life and it’s been a source of great strength for me.
AB: Do you believe in hell?
DM: Oh, hell no! I believe in the goodness of man and I believe in a benevolent God. I count myself as a liberation theologist, as a person who believes that spirituality and religion are meant to be used as a force of good to create change, to better the life of people, to practice the principles in the sermon of the mount: to love your neighbor, to help your neighbor and all of those things.
AB: Let’s switch gears and talk about one of our favorite subjects: politics. You originally supported Democrat John Edwards, particularly because of his opposition stance on the war. So, if Hillary Clinton had not supported the war, would you have supported her?
DM: Most likely – out of friendship and our long history, but the war was a deciding issue. You know, I’ve supported the Clintons in every election since 1974, when Bill ran a losing campaign for Congress. This was the first election in which I have not supported a Clinton. I supported her in both her Senate races and so I would probably view it as a very difficult decision had she been a strong opponent of the war.
AB: And there are no hurt feelings between you guys?
DM: Well, you’d have to ask her that. I certainly have a great deal of admiration and certainly after her speech at the end of the campaign, which I thought was one of the finest political speeches I’ve ever heard. Whether they have hurt feelings, there are all sorts of rumors, so I don’t know.
AB: How are you feeling about the Obama campaign?
DM: Well, you know, one of the joys of this campaign is that I had to make a decision not to support Senator Clinton, then I supported John Edwards and I ended up with Obama and I have become a real huge Obama fan in the process, which sort of caught me by surprise. I think he’s a breath of fresh air and will provide a clear choice in November – just on so many things, whether it’s LGBT issues or the war. It’s between the future and the past. It’s just such a clear-cut decision for the people of this country. Obama reminds me – and I know this is a clichÃ©, but I was alive, so I get to say it, and he was my hero – of John Kennedy: the broad sweep on policy and delegating the specifics to others and the unbelievable ability to inspire and make people believe again. And, God, it’s great to see!