David Mixner, gay rights activist & presidential adviser, dies at 77

Longtime LGBTQ+ activist David Mixner, who worked on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign and then famously broke with Clinton over his policy on gays in the military, died Monday at age 77.

His death was announced on his Facebook page. A cause of death was not mentioned.

“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 Mixner. 1946-2024.”

David Mixner became nationally famous because of his friendship with Clinton, but his activist career encompassed far more than that. Mixner grew up in poverty, in a home without indoor plumbing, and he sympathized with all marginalized people.

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His involvement in politics dates to his teenage years in New Jersey, when he volunteered in John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign.

“He told us we had an obligation to get out of ourselves as young people and into the world,” Mixner told The Advocate in 2010.

David Mixner Dies Obituary

Longtime LGBTQ+ activist David Mixner, who worked on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign and then famously broke with Clinton over policy on gays in the military, died Monday at age 77. Photo: Facebook

Mixner then went to the Deep South to work in the Black Civil Rights Movement.

“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 recalled in the 2010 interview.

“Most of my focus was political, on working hard to register African-Americans to vote, getting rid of the poll tax,” he said.

Mixner soon became involved in opposition to the Vietnam War. During protests at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, he was severely beaten by police, “which gave me a bad leg and forced me to walk on a cane most of my life,” he told The Advocate.

David Mixner helped organize a national moratorium against the war in 1969.

Coming out in 1970s, fighting AIDS

He came out as gay in the 1970s in response to antigay campaigns by entertainer Anita Bryant and others. Mixner and his then-partner, Peter Scott, were leaders in the effort to defeat California’s Proposition 6, aka the Briggs Initiative, a 1978 ballot measure that, if passed, would have barred gays and lesbians from teaching in the state’s public schools. They persuaded former Gov. Ronald Reagan to publicly oppose the measure, and it ended up being rejected by voters.

Mixner became heavily involved in AIDS activism in the 1980s; among other things, he helped draft legislation to help California respond more effectively to the crisis.

“There are people who were much more talented, much more articulate than I was,” Mixner, who was HIV-positive, said in a 2018 Advocate interview. “But unfortunately, they didn’t make it through the epidemic.”

But Mixner’s contributions were significant. In 1987, he participated in one of the first AIDS protests at the White House, when Reagan was president and many were disgusted with his administration’s insufficient response to the epidemic. Mixner was arrested along with 64 others.

He and others believed that government would be more responsive to the needs of the LGBTQ+ community if that community was represented in all levels of government. Toward that end, he and other activists founded the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, now the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, in 1991 to elect out candidates to office.

He and Lynn Greer were the founding co-chairs of Victory Fund’s board. He also created Victory Fund’s Presidential Appointments Project, which continues to this day, working for the appointment of LGBTQ+ people to presidential administrations.

Bill Clinton betrayal

When Clinton ran for president in 1992, Mixner was his top adviser on gay issues and the first out gay person to have a public-facing role in a presidential campaign.

After Clinton was elected, one of his priorities, at the urging of Mixner, was lifting the ban on military service by gays, lesbians, and bisexuals.

Clinton ran into heavy opposition in Congress and eventually reached a controversial compromise with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, under which lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members couldn’t come out — but the military wasn’t supposed to seek them out.

Mixner spoke out against the policy, resulting in a break with Clinton and the president’s allies.

“They made it impossible for me to work for four years,” Mixner told Variety in 2015. “I was banned from the White House, but interestingly enough, I didn’t get much support from the (LGBTQ+) community. But that is OK, because I had to do what I thought was right.”

Pressing Barack Obama

Later, he pressed President Barack Obama to lift “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” particularly because the armed services violated its own policy and had been discharging lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members.

In 2010, Congress passed and Obama signed legislation ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which allowed these members to serve openly.

Mixner also helped organize the National Equality March for LGBTQ+ rights in Washington, D.C., in 2009, and worked for marriage equality.

He wrote extensively about his life and career, including the memoir “Stranger Among Friends,” published in 1997, and several autobiographical one-man plays.

“I really believe if we come out of nothing, if we don’t know our history, then it’s impossible to build a future,” he told The Advocate in 2018.

His legacy

In his later years, he received many honors from LGBTQ+ organizations, such as the Point Foundation and the Ali Forney Center.

Fabrice Houdart, founder and executive director of the Association of LGBTQ+ Corporate Directors, published a tribute to Mixner on Substack Monday night.

“David’s most significant accomplishment as an activist was that he retained his moral authority through thick and thin,” Houdart wrote. “That’s why, until the end, his endorsement and advice remained valuable to political candidates and LGBTQ+ organizations alike, who made the pilgrimage to Hell’s Kitchen to obtain his blessing.”

LGBTQ+ Victory Fund President Annise Parker issued a statement detailing Mixner’s work for the group and praising his overall activism.

“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,” she said. “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. 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.”

This article originally appeared on Advocate.com, and is shared here as part of an LGBTQ+ community exchange between Q Voice News and Equal Pride.

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Trudy Ring

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