Trailblazing gay rights activist David Mixner dies at age 77

Trailblazing gay rights activist David Mixner dies at age 77
David Mixner in a 2023 interview Photo: Scripps News YouTube screenshot

Longtime LGBTQ+ activist, author, and political consultant David Mixner died on Monday at the age of 77 due to complications with COVID-19’s long-term effects, The New York Times reported. He is survived by his brother, Melvin.

Born on August 16, 1946 and raised in an Elmer, New Jersey, home without indoor plumbing, Mixner’s activism began in high school through volunteering for John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign. Mixner picketed during the Civil Rights Movement and sent money to Martin Luther King Jr. — the latter two of which embarrassed Mixner’s working-class parents, he wrote in his 1996 memoir Stranger Among Friends.

“I went down to Mississippi and Alabama and Georgia and Louisiana and went to jail a number of times in those states working on the efforts,” he said in a 2010 interview with The Advocate. “Most of my focus was political, on working hard to register African-Americans to vote, getting rid of the poll tax.”

As an Arizona State University student, he organized protests against the military and in support of unionizing city garbage workers. He later dropped out of college and pursued political activism, working for the unsuccessful presidential campaign of then-Rep. Eugene McCarthy (D-MN). Police assaulted Mixner while he was protesting the Vietnam War at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The resulting leg injury necessitated his use of a cane for most of his life afterward. Mixner also helped gay politician Harvey Milk’s early 1970s campaign for San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors.

In 1976, Mixner publicly came out in response to the national anti-gay campaigns pushed by bigoted Christian folk singer Anita Bryant and others. Mixner co-founded the nation’s first gay and lesbian political action committee, the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles (MECLA). He helped successfully campaign against Proposition 6, a 1978 California ballot measure seeking to ban gays and lesbian school teachers, and against Proposition 64, a 1986 state ballot measure to quarantine people with AIDS. His work against Proposition 6 boosted his political consulting business.

In 1987, he was arrested during one of the first AIDS protests outside of the White House. That same year, he also successfully pushed for the passage of AB 1952, a California state bill allowing AIDS patients to help test experimental retroviral medications. Mixner was HIV-positive and his romantic and professional partner, Peter Scott, died of AIDS in 1989. Mixner lost over 180 friends to AIDS and helped euthanize eight of them, he admitted in 2014.

“All of my peers died of AIDS, and I have no one to celebrate my past or my journey, or to help me pass down stories to the next generation,” he said in a 2008 interview. “We lost an entire generation of storytellers.”

In 1986, he organized the 1986 Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament, a 1200-person coast-to-coast march. In 1991, he co-founded the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund (now called the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund), the first national organization to actively support queer political candidates. He believed queer politicians would help the government respond more urgently to the LGBTQ+ community’s needs.

In 1992, Mixner led LGBTQ+ fundraising for then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton and became the first out gay public surrogate for any presidential campaign. Mixner later publicly criticized Clinton’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” ban on LGBTQ+ military members and was arrested in front of the White House during a July 19, 1993 march on against the policy.

His opposition reportedly caused the downfall of his political consulting firm. “David’s political consulting career was over, and by the end of the Clinton presidency, he was pawning his watches to pay rent,” Outwords reported. Years later, Mixner and Clinton reportedly reconciled their differences over the issue.

Mixner helped organize the October 2009 National Equality March for LGBTQ+ rights in Washington, D.C.. In 2017, he staged his play, 1969, and in 2018, his one-man play Who Fell into The Outhouse? raised over $175,000 for the Ali Forney Center, which serves homeless LGBTQ+ youth.

“David changed the world forever,” GLAAD chief executive Sarah Kate Ellis said of his passing. “Equality would not be where it is today without his leadership, passion, and immense heart and humor.”

“David was a beloved mentor to me and so many other LGBTQ+ leaders, always pushing for more for our community,” Ellis added. “He dedicated his life to our community, now we must strive to live up to his legacy.”

In a statement, LGBTQ+ Victory Fund President Annise Parker said, “David gave his time, energy and money to building a new political reality in America – having the foresight and dedication to see it through even in the most difficult of times.”

“His legacy is the thousands of out LGBTQ+ people who now serve in elected and appointed positions all across the nation – and the tens of thousands more to come,” she added. “David embodied the spirit of activism and resistance in everything he did – and always with humor and a smile. He has changed not just America, but the world. We love you David. And we thank you.”

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