1946-08-16

DAVID MIXNER is an American political activist and author born on this date. He is best known for his work in anti-war and gay rights advocacy. 

In the fall of 1964, Mixner enrolled at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, where he soon became heavily involved in civil rights and anti-war activism, including helping to organize protests against a speech by General William Westmoreland. Prompted by an article he read in The Arizona Republic about city garbage workers who were seeking the right to unionize, in the fall of 1966, Mixner organized from start to finish the first of many protests he would organize over the next thirty years. Mixner rallied hundreds of workers, students and professors and led a march on City Hall. Although the city successfully broke the strike, the workers eventually earned the right to unionize.

Mixner also experienced his first same-sex relationship at ASU, with a man whom he refers to as Kit in his memoirs. A year into their relationship, Kit was killed in an automobile accident. Mixner did not attend the funeral, and Kit’s parents never discovered that their son was gay. Mixner was born and grew up in the small town of Elmer, New Jersey. His father Ben worked on a corporate farm, and his mother Mary worked shifts at a local glass factory and later took a job as a bookkeeper for the local John Deere dealership.

Soon after Kit’s death, Mixner decided to transfer to the University of Maryland to be closer to Washington, D.C., where he would be able to get more involved in anti-war protests.

Mixner found himself much more interested in activism than in pursuing a college degree. While at Maryland, Mixner was a grassroots organizer for the 1967 march on the Pentagon, which was later captured in Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night.

Later that year, Mixner dropped out of college and began working for the presidential campaign of Eugene McCarthy. One of Mixner’s first assignments was organizing the Minnesota operation, helping McCarthy win the Minnesota caucus, defeating incumbent President Johnson. Later, Mixner and other members of McCarthy’s campaign team went to Georgia to help select an alternative delegation to send to the national convention in Chicago, challenging Governor Lestor Maddox’s hand-picked delegation, which included only seven African-Americans in the 117 person delegation. The Georgia Democratic Party Forum, which sought to challenge Maddox’s delegation, held its own convention in Macon, where Congressman John Conyers (D–MI) keynoted their convention before turning over the floor to Julian Bond, the first African-American elected to the Georgia legislature, who would later become Chairman of the NAACP.

At the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, Mixner was beaten by police during the protests held outside the convention center. After Humphrey claimed the nomination, Mixner began seeking out new outlets for his activism. He soon befriended Doris Kearns Goodwin, who introduced Mixner to Senator Ted Kennedy, who would become a lifelong friend.

Mixner’s most significant contribution to the anti-Vietnam War effort was his role as one of the head organizers of the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. The idea was prompted by Jermoe Grossman, a Massachusetts businessman active in the peace movement. Grossman proposed to Sam Brown, a close friend of Mixner, that they set aside a day in 1969 where “business as usual” would come to a halt, essentially engaging in a strike against everything. Brown decided that the word “moratorium” would be less threatening than “strike” to middle-class Americans, and set to work, setting aside October 15, 1969 as the day of the moratorium. Brown soon enlisted the help of Mixner, David Hawk, another young activist, and Marge Sklencar, who they knew from the McCarthy campaign. Brown, Mixner, Hawk and Sklencar then set about organizing the event.

In September 1969, shortly before the Moratorium, Mixner headed to Martha’s Vineyard to meet with fellow activists, many of whom had also worked on the McCarthy campaign. Among those in attendance was Bill Clinton, who had been invited by one of Mixner’s friends. At the time, Clinton was studying at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, attending the Martha’s Vineyard retreat with fellow Rhodes Scholars Rick Stearns and Strobe Talbott. Mixner and Clinton were fast friends, and Mixner would play a significant role twenty-three years later in getting the LGBT community to support Clinton.

As the date of the Moratorium approached, it began gathering a great deal of momentum, with Time, Life, and Newsweek magazines featuring it in cover stories. When Clinton subsequently visited the headquarters of the Moratorium and saw what he would be missing by being in London on October 15, he suggested to Mixner that he organize a parallel protest at Oxford. This protest, in which about a thousand people gathered in front of the American embassy in London, would later be a significant issue in his presidential campaign, with President George H. Bush telling Larry King on CNN in October 1992, “Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but to go to a foreign country and demonstrate against your own country when your sons and daughters are dying halfway around the world, I am sorry but I think that is wrong.”

The Moratorium drew millions of people throughout the country, who gathered in public places and read the names of the soldiers killed in Vietnam aloud. The day was capped off by a march at the Washington Monument, where Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke about her late husband’s passion for ending the war.

In 1976, Mixner began the process of coming out of the closet, and soon thereafter was a founding member of the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles (MECLA), the nation’s first gay and lesbian Political Action Committee. At the time, very few candidates were willing to accept donations from openly gay individuals or gay-affiliated organizations. At the time, Mixner was also serving as the campaign manager for Tom Brady, the mayor of Los Angeles who was seeking reelection, so while he worked to raise funds for MECLA, his involvement was kept secret because of the potential for his sexuality to become an issue in Bradley’s campaign.

Soon after Bradley won reelection easily, Mixner turned his focus to fighting Proposition 6, an initiative placed on the California ballot by  Orange County State Senator John Briggs that would make it illegal for gays and lesbians to be schoolteachers. Similar initiatives had recently passed throughout the country when Mixner turned his focus to fighting Proposition 6, creating the “NO on 6” organization to fight it; through the process, he would publicly come out. Mixner and his lover Peter Scott secured a meeting with then-Governor Ronald Reagan, whom they convinced to oppose the initiative publicly. As a result, and through the work of Mixner, Scott, legendary gay rights activist and San Francisco City Councilman Harvey Milk, and others, Proposition 6 was defeated by over a million votes, the first ballot initiative of its sort to be shot down.

As a result of this huge success, Mixner and Scott experienced a huge upturn in business for their fledgling political consulting firm, Mixner/Scott, and were asked by Bill Clinton, then running for governor of Arkansas, to host a reception for Clinton at their Los Angeles home.

In 2006, Mixner moved to Turkey Hollow in Sullivan County, New York, where he lived in a bright yellow house with his two cats, Sheba and Uganda. In 2009, Mixner moved to Hell’s Kitchen in New York City. He posted blog entries daily on his website, davidmixner.com. His home was featured in the Real Estate section of The New York Times in an article entitled “Do Ask, Do Tell”. Mixner was the keynote speaker for the Empire State Pride Agenda’s 2007 fall dinner.

In October 2008, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah, honored Mixner with a luncheon at 10 Downing Sreet. The luncheon in Mixner’s honor represented the first time a British Prime Minister honored an LGBT activist in this manor.

Also in October 2008, Mixner was invited to debate American politics by the Oxford Union, Britain’s second oldest university union.

Mixner was featured in Ask Not, a 2008 documentary film about the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

In 2009, Mixner moved back to New York City, where he currently resides near Times Square.

In May 2009, Mixner used his blog to call for a March on Washington to protest the LGBT community’s lack of equal rights. Cleve Jones, spurred by Mixner’s call to march, led the organizational efforts for the National Equality March, scheduled for October 10–11, 2009. Mixner and Jones both were featured speakers at a rally in front of the Capitol after the March. Over 200,000 people marched on Washington on October 11, 2009.

Mixner was honored by the Point Foundation , an organization that provides college scholarships to LGBT students, with its Legend Award at the foundation’s 2009 Honors Gala in New York City. The award was presented to Mixner by Victoria Reggie Kennedy, Ted Kennedy’s widow.

In 2011, the Theater at Dixon Place announced a one-man show starring Mixner, From the Front Porch. The show was a benefit for Dixon Place and the Ali Forney Center, an organization benefiting LGBT homeless youth.

Mixner released a memoir of his time in Turkey Hollow, At Home with Myself: Stories from the Hills of Turkey Hollow, in September 2011. The memoir is published by Magnus Books.

There is too much more of David’s achievements to include in this space. Happy birthday David. You are a national treasure.