Gay former presidential adviser David Mixner dies

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Tuesday March 12, 2024
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Gay political activist David Mixner died March 11. Photo: From Facebook
Gay political activist David Mixner died March 11. Photo: From Facebook

David Mixner, a gay man who once advised former President Bill Clinton before a falling out over the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on gays in the military, died Monday, March 11, in New York City. He was 77.

The announcement was made on Mr. Mixner's Facebook page. "It is with a heavy heart that I share the news of David's passing today," read a comment under a photo captioned "R.I.P. David B. Mixner. 1946-2024." A cause of death was not stated.

While Mr. Mixner was best known as an adviser to Clinton — Newsweek named him the most powerful gay man in America in 1993 — he was involved in many LGBTQ issues.

He became an activist in the civil rights movement over the objections of his parents and protested the Vietnam War, as the Bay Area Reporter noted in a 2008 article.

Mr. Mixner worked on the presidential campaigns of the late Eugene McCarthy and Clinton as well as the campaigns of the late Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and former California governor Jerry Brown. A consummate political insider, Mr. Mixner at the same time caused countless headaches for Democratic Party officials as a rebel voice within the party, as the paper previously reported.

The falling out with Clinton occurred because the president signed DADT after promising during his 1992 campaign to allow gays to serve openly in the military. DADT was presented as a compromise law whereby gays and lesbians could serve if they remained in the closet. It took decades for DADT to be repealed by a bill in Congress that was signed by former President Barack Obama in 2010. The law went into effect in 2011. According to a 2010 study by the Williams Institute, an LGBTQ think tank at UCLA School of Law, more than 13,000 individuals were discharged for violating DADT.

Mr. Mixner lived for a short time in San Francisco in the late 1970s. While in the city, he worked with the late gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk to defeat California Proposition 6, the 1978 Briggs initiative that would have banned gays from teaching in public schools. He told the B.A.R. during the 2008 phone interview that one of the saddest days of his life was November 27, 1978 — the day that former San Francisco Supervisor Dan White assassinated Milk along with then-mayor George Moscone in their City Hall offices.

"He was one of the funniest people I worked with in politics. He took great joy at needling people effectively," Mr. Mixner said of Milk. "Another time and place he would have been a U.S. senator."

The B.A.R. spoke with Mr. Mixner back then because he was returning to San Francisco to receive the Pioneer Award from GLAAD, a national organization focused on LGBTQ advocacy and cultural change.

Current GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis remembered Mr. Mixner in a statement.

"David changed the world forever and equality would not be where it is today without his leadership, passion, and immense heart and humor," Ellis stated. "David was a beloved mentor to me and so many other LGBTQ leaders, always pushing for more for our community. He dedicated his life to our community and now we must strive to live up to his legacy."

AIDS, political activism

Mr. Mixner was also involved in AIDS activism for many years. He lost his partner, Peter Scott, to the disease in 1989.

Annise Parker, a lesbian who is the outgoing president of the national LGBTQ Victory Fund, recalled that Mr. Mixner protested in front of the White House for increased federal AIDS funding at a time when then-President Ronald Reagan would not mention the disease killing thousands of gay men, as well as others.

"David was a courageous, resilient, and unyielding force for social change at a time when our community faced widespread discrimination and an HIV/AIDS crisis ignored by the political class in Washington, D.C.," Parker stated. "In 1987, David joined one of the first HIV/AIDS protests outside the Reagan White House, where police wore latex gloves because of the stigma and misinformation around HIV/AIDS. He was arrested, along with 64 others, and made national headlines, when being an out person could lead to harassment, violence or worse. But David was undeterred."

Parker noted that the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund was born out of various protests, when LGBTQ leaders realized that out people weren't represented in elected office.

"In 1991, he joined other activists to launch a new organization, LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, that exclusively supported LGBTQ+ candidates," Parker stated. "David served with Lynn Greer as a founding board co-chair. With support for candidates underway, his vision of a government and democracy representative of its people expanded beyond elections — and moved to ensure we were represented in political parties and presidential administrations as well.

"He pushed the presidential campaign of Bill Clinton to be inclusive of gay people — and was asked to join the campaign's National Executive Committee — the first time an out LGBTQ+ person held a public facing presidential campaign role. When President Clinton won, David launched Victory's Presidential Appointments Program, pushing the administration to appoint LGBTQ+ people to key political positions. That work continues to this day," Parker stated.

Equality California, the statewide LGBTQ rights organization, also praised Mr. Mixner.

"David Mixner was a tireless fighter for our community and dedicated his life to advancing full, lived equality for all LGBTQ+ people," EQCA Executive Director Tony Hoang stated. "His many decades of advocacy have changed the lives of countless LGBTQ+ people in California and across the world for the better. Among his many accomplishments, David worked alongside Harvey Milk to stop California from banning LGBTQ+ schoolteachers in the 1970s, advocated for more aggressive treatment options during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, helped lead the fight against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the 1990s, and was central to our achieving marriage equality in the 2000s."

In 2009, Mr. Mixner worked with gay and AIDS activist Cleve Jones to organize the National Equality March in Washington, D.C.

In a phone interview March 12, Jones recalled that Mr. Mixner was a hero of his before he even knew that he was gay. Jones's first political action involved organizing a walkout at his high school as part of the massive national Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, in October 1969.

"I didn't know at the time that he was the organizer of that," Jones said, adding that he met Mr. Mixner for the first time when he went to Los Angeles after Milk was killed.

"In 2009 he called for a March on Washington to try and push Obama but said Torie Osborn and I should be in charge," Jones said, laughing, adding that Osborn "wisely declined."

So Jones went ahead with planning for the event, much of which was organized online, he said. The march took place on October 11, which is National Coming Out Day and also Jones' birthday.

"It was incredible," Jones said, adding that about 100,000 people attended. "Lady Gaga was there, and a lot of young people. It helped, I think, push Obama forward on marriage equality."

Mr. Mixner authored a best-selling memoir, "Stranger Among Friends," in 1996. He donated his personal papers to Yale University in 2005.

In 2007, when he donated a journal he kept of all the friends lost to AIDS to Yale, Mr. Mixner recalled a freshman approached him and introduced himself as belonging to the gay student group on campus, he told the B.A.R. in the 2008 interview.

The student praised Mixner for his speech but wanted to ask a question. Who is Harvey Milk?

"Here was a freshman at Yale involved in the gay student association who didn't know Harvey Milk," said Mr. Mixner. "I realized one, how old I have gotten, and two, we are losing our history because many of our storytellers died of AIDS.

"Many of the people who would have passed on Harvey's story ... who would have been mentors or tribal elders of this next generation died. So there is a deep void out there of LGBT history," he added.

Mr. Mixner spoke with the B.A.R. several months before the "Milk" biopic was released and said he sees the film and other efforts to preserve the LGBTQ community's contributions and milestones as providing a sense of pride not only to those who lived through it but to those just now coming out of the closet.

"When I came out I just thought I came out of nothing. I was this horrible person born of nothing. The fact of the matter is I came out of a great and noble struggle for human rights," said Mr. Mixner. "We can find in our history a nobleness. We can find self-esteem. We can realize we come out of a rich, wonderful heroic struggle. And that is important to know."

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