Q&A: Corey Johnson


Corey Johnson

The clean-cut
cocaptain of his high school football team and Tommy
Hilfiger–handsome to boot, 18-year-old Corey Johnson
was an instant gay hero when he came out in 2000. He
was profiled in Sports Illustrated and The
New York Times,
and he spoke at the Millennium
March in Washington, D.C. These days Johnson is a seasoned
Manhattan political operative—and he’s still
only 23.

By Etleka Lehoczky

Corey Johnson can be contacted at cojo63@aol.com.

Was it hard to jump into a public role at your age?

Yes. I’d just turned 18, and I left my hometown
and my family four days after I graduated from high
school. I was traveling the country alone, going from
city to city. I got to meet some amazing people,
though. At one event in Minneapolis I got to meet Paul
Wellstone. It got me interested in Democratic politics.

What are you doing now?

I work for Mark Green, who’s running for attorney
general in New York. I’m his political
director. I began working with him when he ran for
mayor of New York City in 2001. I actually moved to New York
City to work for him. I was also involved in the Dean
campaign early on, in Vermont and New Hampshire.

That’s an amazingly rapid advancement, even for
the world of politics. How did you do it?

I’m not sure. I don’t drink, I
don’t smoke, and I don’t do drugs, but
the one thing I’m addicted to is politics and the
media, and I’ve gotten some good breaks along
the way.

Your travels must have afforded plenty of
opportunities to get a close-up view of the gay United
States. How do you feel about the state of the movement?

I feel really mixed about it. Some of the people I look
up to most were trailblazers in the community for
years: Michelangelo Signorile, Larry Kramer, and other
smart, progressive lefty activists. They really paved
the way for me. But there aren’t a lot of role models
for gay people my age. Being a young gay person living
in New York, I see what scourges crystal meth and the
explosion of new HIV infections have been. I also hate
the political complacency of the community. We have to look
at ourselves in the mirror and stop trying to convince
ourselves that things are wonderful when
they’re not.

Do you encounter complacency firsthand?

Yes, but it’s somewhat understandable. Larry
Kramer talked about how older gay men who could have
been role models were wiped out by AIDS. It really
left a void. I was very lucky when I came out because I had
some older gay men who mentored me.

How do you think the community should address this problem?

There need to be more activities for all ages. I help
organize the gay football league in New York. One goal
for me is to try to get more young people involved. In
New York City there are plenty of young people who
don’t have an outlet to do positive things with good
role models.

Are there a lot of young gay people in the league?

Right now there aren’t that
many—I’m one of the youngest.

Are you one of the best players?

I’m pretty good—I’m actually a team
captain—but there are lots of guys who played
college and semipro football. There are also people who
never played before. It’s a wide range of abilities.
There are a lot of good friendships, and that’s
the most important part—though my team did come
in first.

Where do you hope to be in a few years?

Hopefully, I’ll get to work for a successful
presidential candidate and ultimately make a move to

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