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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

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 Washington.

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