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Closets are for cowboy boots: A tribute to David Mixner

David Mixner
David Mixner Facebook
David Mixner, veteran LGBTQ+ activist and presidential adviser, has died at 77

A friend remembers the late LGBTQ+ rights activist David Mixner.

“Hi, I’m David Mixner. And I’m a living legend.”

Very few can say such a sentence when they meet new people. Even fewer can mean it. And when David Mixner said this— and he said it often– he meant it.

David was and always will be a legend. He believed that all Americans belong in all places in America, and he spent decades of his storied life making that happen. Since he first championed racial equality at the end of the Vietnam War, over sixty years ago, to the fight to reverse the harm of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and promote the causes of Marriage Equality, transgender rights, and democracy for all, in recent years, David actually made the change so many merely talk about making.

He once told me that the only thing that belongs in closets are cowboy boots. Once, during one of our many hours-long talks in his apartment, he had me try a few pairs on. Just like a diary, every boot was filled with stories. “I wore these the first time I told off my friend Bill Clinton. Then, I got arrested chaining myself to his White House fence in them,” he devilishly reminisced while pointing to a pair of his favorites. “These, I wore,” pointing to another pair, “in my off-Broadway debut. They should give me a special Tony Award for that.”

Even without the cowboy boots, David always stood tall. The conviction he felt in every word of advice, every bit of guidance, every nuanced look at the current political landscape, made you feel taller, too. He was such a profound lover of nature, and you felt like you were on a great safari with him every time he took on one of his magical trips using only his words.

He was also a profound student of history – and not just the history he helped make. He made sure you knew that we, as an LGBTQ+ community, have a history that we, ourselves, have to write, preserve, and share — and we can’t let it be erased.

At his funeral service in New York City, we laughed, we cried, we told the kind of filthy jokes that David would have loved. But, we also, as David so often asked us to do, bore witness. An eclectic group of individuals showed up to pay their respects. In the pews were elected officials and public servants, artists and activists, radical champions, and quiet changemakers. Though all of us are different in our work, the one thing we all shared was the understanding of the historical impact David made, and how all of us are who we are and where we are today because of all he did.

Sean Patrick Maloney, former White House staffer, turned congressman, turned ambassador, delivered one of the many beautiful reflections on David’s life and influence. In his words, he reminded us that before David, the shadow of the Lavender Scare loomed over all of our futures. LGBTQ+ Americans who wanted to fight, and even die, for the nation they love had to do so in total secrecy in our armed forces. A life in public service as a political appointee or career staffer in Washington, D.C., was nearly impossible for anyone who was out – or even assumed to be. It was not possible for us to have the national security clearances needed to do our jobs, and so while some hid quietly in their work, countless more were expelled and had their livelihoods forever damaged because of who they were, and who they loved.

David’s name permeates the halls of power in Washington and across America. A little over 70 years ago, the Lavender Scare sought to purge all queer people from the Federal Government. Yet in 2023, dozens of my fellow out LGBTQ+ appointees and staffers came together to celebrate how far we've come, and how far we still have to go many years after the Scare. One of our guest speakers invoked David and said how much he’d get a kick out of ‘all of us being here and queer’ in a building named for the President who said we couldn’t possibly be trusted to serve the nation we love.

Cut to the Biden-Harris Administration, the most pro-equality and pro-inclusion administration in American history. A record-breaking 15 percent of appointees are members of the LGBTQ+ community, with more celebrating their total identities and intersections than ever before.

David was a co-founder of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which helps recruit and train elected and appointed officials from our communities. It’s a beautiful testament to his legacy that the program responsible for putting people like us in positions of influence and service will soon be renamed the “David Mixner Presidential Appointments Initiative.”

To be a “David Mixner Presidential Appointee” is as much an honor as being asked to serve by the president himself. Serving my country as an out and proud gay man is a dream come true, and thankfully one that is realized because of David. This is the most pro-LGBTQ and pro-equality administration ever. More LGBTQ+ people are serving at every single level of government in America because David demanded we be there. He refused to accept anything less than equality, and would never let you shirk from the fight to make it happen– for our community, and for any in need of a voice.

That’s why there’s a photo of David on my desk, next to a signed copy of one of his many books. When I need to be reminded of the guts it takes to make a difference, I take a look at David and remember that there is always more work to be done.

And perhaps even more importantly: every pair of cowboy boots I see will make me smile with pride and purpose.


Jonathan Lovitz is an appointee in the Biden-Harris Administration, focused on the economy. He most recently served nearly a decade as SVP of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), where he led passage of over 20 pro-LGBTQ and minority-supporting laws across America. Follow him @jdlovitz.

Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.

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