David Mixner is acutely aware that now he is one of the last pioneering voices in his community.
"I'm sort of sitting here by default, and I know it, and I know I carry that burden: To never let people forget," he said.
When he started his civil rights journey more than six decades ago, the world looked different.
First, he was a closeted anti-war activist. He saw firsthand homophobia alongside people he was fighting with. He asked himself one simple question that changed it all: "How can I have fought for all those people and not fought for myself?"
That question set off an awakening, personally and professionally.
"When I came out at 30, it was the greatest liberation in my life. My life began," Mixner said. "God put you here on the Earth for only one reason, and that is to help and serve others."
He spent his career trailblazing, working on campaigns, fighting bigoted initiatives and supporting his community through the AIDS epidemic.
"I lost 310 friends, my partner of 12 years. I gave 90 eulogies in two years," he said. "A lot of those people who were dying, even in their last couple of weeks, went to the streets and acted up, fighting for the right to live."
It propelled him to push those in his own political party to become more accepting.
"A lot of Democrats who I had worked on their campaigns and helped get them elected and even wrote checks for sent checks back because they didn't want me on the list of donors," Mixner said.
That included $1 million Mixner and his friends tried to donate to the Michael Dukakis Campaign, only to have it rejected.
Instead, he put his power behind Bill Clinton, who promised to work towards a cure for AIDS and to support gay people in the military. Mixner became one of the president's closest advisers. In 1993 Clinton announced Don't Ask Don't Tell, a policy that allowed the LGBTQ+ community to serve as long as they didn't openly talk about their sexual identity.
"We're a nation that prides itself on honesty, probably more than any other nation," Mixner said. "George Washington didn't chop the cherry tree down. Honest Abe. We send people to prison more often for perjury for telling a lie than we do for the actual crime they committed. In business, we don't care what you do; just don't lie to us, unless you're gay. And then you're so bad and so evil, every institution, every individual, says, 'Please lie to us. You're the exception to the great American love affair with the truth.'"
That policy changed his life. He protested, got arrested, lost his job and then couldn't get work for almost four years. He says his relationship with the president was never the same.
In the 30 years since, reflecting on his entire career, Mixner says there are beautiful changes everywhere.
"We've gone from lobotomies to marriage, to having families to be able to put pictures of our families in the corporate boardrooms," he said.
He knows this progress is only as good as the next generation's ability to keep it.
"We never can let our guard down," Mixner said. "We're in a big battle right now to preserve what we've gained. You want me to be partially free? We want me to give you permission to take away my freedom for your political convenience? Oh, no. Oh, no, that's not negotiable."
Mixner believes the movement is in good hands moving forward, and his advice is crystal clear.
"Don't hate the haters. Don't make them become what they are. Don't surrender your basic humanity under attack. Just strengthen it. And the more powerful love is, the more we can defeat them," he said.
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