Legendary gay-rights advocate David Mixner was Bill Clinton's most trusted gay advisor until the president waffled on his promise to end the ban on military service for gay people, gifting the country with Don't Ask, Don't Tell. For decades, he's been a prominent voice in the struggle for our equal rights, a tough critic of our enemies as well as our fair-weather friends and an inspiration for everyone following the trail he's blazed.
During Dixon Places's 20th Annual Hot Festival on July 11th and 18th, Mixner will appear on stage in From the Front Porch: An Evening with David Mixner, a unique musical show about his life—and about ours. With Josh Zuckerman playing and singing his original songs to highlight the "chapters" of Mixner's life story, it's a can't-miss opportunity.
The July 11 show, a benefit for The Ali Forney Center, is all but sold out. But there are still cheap ($15!), good seats available for July 18, a performance the venue and the star hope will be especially appealing to the next generation of LGBT activists.
Boy Culture: What inspired this show—why did you want to tell your life story in this way?
David Mixner: Growing up in the early 1950s in a home without television and in a family where some could not read or write, the way our elders told the family history was through storytelling. I come from a family of storytellers who made sure we knew with humor and inspiration our history and journey as a family. Seemed to me to be a good and unusual format to help pass on the history and stories of our community.
BC: What are the key aspects of your life story that you think other and especially younger LGBTQ people will relate to?
DM: That in my life journey there have been huge setbacks, failure and self-hatred... and yet by walking through fear, it is possible to have a productive life of service to others.
BC: How is the music worked into the piece, and how was it selected?
DM: Keep telling people I am going to do a naked pole dance! The talent around this show is amazing. Director Stephen Brackett just received a rave New York Times review. Josh Zuckerman is using all original music for the songs that are interspersed with the storytelling. Broadway singer Holly Holcomb is working with Josh. The music is important to the stories but new. Back home, good music and a mean fiddle was always essential to the day.
BC: You've blogged for quite a while now—has it been a useful tool in reaching out to people and expressing yourself? Do you recommend it?
DM: First of all, l I can't believe I have mastered the computer in order to blog. Second, I love blogging. Especially since I have had some critical health issues over the last couple of years, it gives me a voice. I am thrilled it is resonating with folks and honored that some find it of interest.
BC: Right now in our country, there seem to be three kinds of gay people—the ones who want a truly fierce advocate and won't settle for anything else, the ones who are okay with a president who is on our side but willing to make political calculations that compromise our issues, and the ones who really do not care about politics. Why do you, as someone who I assume would put himself in the first category, still advocate for Democrats over Republicans, and will you vote for Barack Obama even if he doesn't "evolve" on marriage by 11/12?
DM: Well, Matt, I would add a couple of other categories since it is always hard to take a broad spectrum of opinion and condense into just three approach's. I guess in your list I am a hybrid who sometimes pleases no one except my own principles and values. I believe in holding our elected officials to a hard line and accountable. On the other hand, can't imagine not voting for Obama against any other Republican.
BC: What do you make of the concept of politicians "evolving?" Is it ever natural, or is it always a way of saying, "I have a different opinion from my stated position and am just waiting for a convenient time to say so?"
DM: Evolving = Ducking
BC: Does your relationship with President Clinton figure prominently in your show, and how would you rate him as a president and on gay issues now that time has passed?
DM: No actually it is a very small part of the show. Think that people forget how important of the election of President Clinton was to us. In 1988, the presidential candidate wouldn't even accept a million dollars from us. It was considered a huge victory by the community just to have Clinton say the word "gay" at the 1992 [Democratic National] Convention. He was the transition president that enabled this community to be where we are today.
DM: God bless him. How can you not admire a man who takes our issues into the lion's den? He is making many Republicans deal with our issues—sometimes in small, undefinable ways, and sometimes he hits a home run.
BC: For the show, are you so used to public speaking that it doesn't faze you, or due to the personal nature of the material, is it something you might get nervous about doing?
DM: Well, first of all, I am terrified of public speaking and never can write a speech. The play is a different format and storytelling requires I can't write anything down. The director is "blocking it," which is a totally new format. I love that at 65 I can still personally challenge myself.
BC: What's the best experience you've ever had involving politics and activism, and what's the worst?
DM: There are several best, including running and winning the Proposition 6 campaign in California, being honored at Number 10 Downing Street at a luncheon, debating at the Oxford Union, being at the signing of DADT and this past Friday night with the passage of marriage in New York. Oh, God, the worst? My failures due to my ego in politics, the AIDS crisis and my feeling of helplessness politically and the assassinations in the 1960s.
BC: Dan Choi is a polarizing figure in the gay community of late—many idolize him for being so outspoken, others question his motives (the affiliation with GOProud, etc.). You know him personally, what would you say to his critics?
DM: If you have a better way to do it than Dan, then simply do it. If you don't have time to make the sacrifice and are unwilling to do so, let him alone. I don't always agree with Dan, but I admire his passion and commitment.
BC: What do you think about the GLAAD AT&T scandal, and are you more for or more against the big, national gay-rights groups?
DM: Don't know many of the details, but I know that GLAAD is just one of many organizations that has been the recipient of AT&T funds. As a community, we have accepted corporate funds as a way of survival—especially in the dark days of the 1980s. The real question is do we accept them as generous gifts or are there strings attached? It is not the size that matters—[laughs]—it is the productivity, the effectiveness and the implementation of a winning strategy. The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund is one of our smaller national organizations but I believe one of our most valuable.
BC: The show you're doing is part fundraiser (the July 11 show is sold out, or close to it), but you have cheap seats available on another night, July 18—what would you say to attract a younger, less deep-pocketed crowd to that show?
DM: Was only willing to do this show and run the risk of making a fool of myself if the second night was accessible to all people economically. To hear our history, of our journey and our courage, should not require a high-priced ticket. Come and find out what an extraordinary community you live in and that you come out of courage, honor and integrity.