When I was in New York City in early March, fellow contributor Phil Reese and I met veteran activist David Mixner at his favorite restaurant for brunch. David was incredibly generous with his time and after we ate I broke out the video camera for an exclusive oral history of Mixner's role in the LGBT movement.
As the Clinton campaign's top gay adviser, Mixner had unparalleled access to the events surrounding then-candidate Clinton's support for removing any obstacle to service and the subsequent capitulation that led to the disastrous DADT policy. Mixner isn't shy about naming names in this bit of history from the LGBT movement either; some of them might surprise you.
True to form, Mixner talks bluntly and without reservation about DADT, the Clinton administration's revenge for his protest, and how some familiar Democratic faces are giving as an opportunity for failure once again. Check out the video after the jump.
If anyone is willing to write up a transcript, I'd be happy to post it as an update for other Projectors who can't watch video!
David Mixner was incredibly generous with his time and spent a couple hours with us talking about the past and his role at the time. We'll have more video from that day soon, but until then you can check out his blog.
Transcript of Part 1 (courtesy of Projector Shayna- thanks!):
The origins of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" was really because of Bill Clinton. In 1992, I was part of a group called ANGLE in Los Angeles. And when Bill Clinton decided to run for President, most of the community including most of the people at HRC was supporting a candidate named Paul Songus from Massachusetts. ANGLE was the first LGBT group to endorse Clinton and he was frantic to get our endorsement and before we would endorse him, we outlined some positions he had to be for. ENDA was of course one of the top priorities back then and repeal of the ban in the military. He gave a speech May 13, 1992 at the Hollywood Palace and very publicly, on his own with no one twisting his arm or jumping up and down on his head, came out and said he would issue an executive order repealing the ban on gays and lesbians in the military.
It became a plank in his campaign and actually part of the platform at the Democratic Convention in 1992 in New York. He never hesitated on the campaign, he repeated it in front of straight audiences, in front of gay audiences ... and it was one of the reasons that the 1992 convention actually became almost the convention that the LGBT community came of age politically. We were totally visible in that convention for the first time ... Roberta Achtenberg, Bob Hattoy and for the first time ever a presidential nominee using the word gay in an acceptance speech.
Then toward the end of the campaign, it was pretty clear that Bill Clinton had a very good chance of winning and I flew to Little Rock to meet with the people who were going to transition because I was concerned .... I knew that the reality of implementing the program on gays and lesbians was going to be more difficult than just taking a campaign stance. And so I went down and visited with a guy named David Stern, Mickey Cantor, George Stephanopoulos, Rahm Emanuel, Eli Segal who was one of the deputies, Harold Ickes, all the top level members of the campaign saying we really need a very sophisticated transition on gay and lesbian issues because the reality .. and the President has to be prepared for this. The problem was the last two weeks of the campaign, everybody in the campaign was jockeying for their position and their job afterwards. David Wilhelm became head of the Democratic Party, and now one wanted to touch the gay issue even though Clinton's victory was in good part because of the LGBT vote and it's supporters. I think Bill Schneider of CNN said one out of every seven votes that Bill Clinton received in that election was because of his stance on these issues ...... and no one wanted to touch this issue. And I said you don't understand, you've got to be prepared. The community has expectations after working so hard. I mean, we had many volunteers in West Hollywood they were bussing them out to San xxxx [3:36] I mean never have I seen the community respond until except maybe this past election of Obama and Mrs. Clinton .. Senator Clinton. No one wanted to touch it.
The President got elected. President Clinton got elected. Again I made an effort. I said the Keith Meinhold decision is coming down and I said you've got to brief the President on this so that he ... you know, the President-Elect ... because they're going to ask him about that. Again, no one wanted to touch the issue, no one wanted to be in charge of the "gay desk" you know. They thought it was a career buster. Everyone forgets that. And what happened is, the President held his first press conference as President-Elect. I'm not sure of the date but it was his very first one ... Well, as history has a strange way of doing things, the Meinhold Decision came down just before that press conference. No one prepared him and so what happened is, he got up in front of the press conference and of course the question came up about the Minehold Decision from the federal court ... just for those that don't remember, sayng gays has a right to serve in the military ... Keith Meinhold, a very brave ... there was that whole group: Greta Cammermyer, Joe Stephen , Keith Meinhold, Tracy Thorn, Zoey Dunning, Jose Zenicka ... all of these people who courageously came out in the military during that period in large part because of Clinton's promises and put their careers on the line for us
Clinton went into the press conference, no preparation, no briefing and said what he said through the whole campaign: Yes, I plan to issue an executive order banning discrimination against gays and lesbians. And I had begged them to have a strategy before they announced it. My preference quite honestly, and what I briefed them when I went to Little Rock was to do it on Inauguration Day. Jimmy Carter when he was elected issued an amnesty for Vietnam deserters and people who went to Canada and he signed it on election [sic] day and it became a page three story on the Inauguration and Clinton should have done the abortion and all the gay rights ... all of that on Inauguration Day and though it would have gotten coverage, it would have been overshadowed by the Inauguration itself and that was my advice and what I was strongly urging and to keep it quiet until then. Not even to discuss it. Just do it.
Well, the next day the front page banner headlines of The New York Times after the press conference, "Clinton Issues Executive Order About Gays in the Military". No one was prepared, no one could back it up in the campaign, there was this huge vacuum, we hadn't even had a chance as a community to get used to having power let alone being ready to have power. What happened after that transition committee, which was a very wise thing, I removed myself from the transition because I believed it should be our national organizations, and William Rayborn and Tim McFeeley of HRC created a coalition of all the organizations...I think, I'm trying to remember who was head of National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce ... NAME [7:04] ... and they created this transition committee which worked brilliantly. It cleared appointments and issues, and I removed myself except when they asked me to call my friends with inside the campaign and to lobby on something because I believed it should be a community effort and not something where it became a power source for me where people had to go through. And so, there was an institution that people went through to get their appointments, not through me. And whenever they came to me I said we have a committee set up and that's it. I will write you a letter of reference but that, you know ... And that's the way it should be.
All hell broke lose. The Clinton people panicked. Again, no one wanted to deal with the gay issue. No one wanted to touch it, even after all this broke out. No strategy came up in this administration. They just panicked. And so as a result, they did nothing for the next month or so and let the anti forces ..... He never called in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he never briefed Colin Powell, he never said this is my policy and you're going to change it no matter what, I'm Commander in Chief. All he had to do was call them in once hell broke out and say I'm your new Commander in Chief. This is gonna be part of like what Harry Truman did. Any of you have a problem you can submit your resignation now. Do you know what? Not one military commander or general or admiral would have given up their private car, their private houses, their butlers, their private jets for gays. I can promise you that. No one of them would have resigned. That's all he had to do. But instead, he just let it sit there. I mean, Colin Powell has said very clearly, if we had had direction from the President it would have been a different story but he left us hanging.
Transcript of Part 2 (courtesy of Projector Shayna- thanks!):
On Inauguration Day, George Stephanopoulos called me and said we think we need more time and we need about six months to build support for this thing. And the President asked me to call you. And I said, if you promise that at the end of the six months you'll repeal, of course we'll support you and give you more time; whatever you need. Again, I did not want it to become a personal thing so I turned to Geffin and Tom Stoddard and Hillary Rosen who held a meeting in the home of Bob Shromp and Mary Louise Oates in Georgetown and I absented myself from it because I was very concerned about looking like I was seeking power cause I didn't want it quite honestly. I didn't even go after an appointment. It's against my politics; its not how I operate.
They formed a Campaign for Military Service headed by Tom Stoddard and Fred Hochberg was involved and all sorts of people were involved, and for six months Tom Stoddard put together one of the most massive campaigns in the history of our community, funded by David Geffin, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to build public support. Ads, grass roots organizations - anything you can imagine and I was on the advisory board and whenever they asked me to do something, I did it. For example, when Clinton proposed perhaps we needed segregated barracks, Tom asked me to raise hell separate from the Campaign for Military Service and I went on Nightline and said unacceptable. Segregation is not acceptable. Separate but equal is not acce .... but that was my role and I was willing to take that heat. But we had a massive campaign. There is this mythology that we didn't do anything to support Clinton. Nothing could be further from the truth and anyone who knows Tom Stoddard who is no longer with us knows he is perhaps one of the greatest men of integrity and dignity ever to come out of this community, loved by everyone which is why he .... and he was dying of AIDS when he came aboard. And he put together a spectacular organization. And his organization was working night and day all over the country - congressional districts - raising money, very well financed by people like Geffin and Dillar - people like that, cause the President had asked him to finance it. You know, this was at the request of the President that this was formed.
In June, [name] got a call at the White House or anything else, Barney Frank who never called any of us, got up and said he was supporting "Don't Ask Don't Tell " and that's what the president was going to do. Not one of us had been contacted; Tom wasn't called, none of us involved with the campaign was called, and over night everything we had worked with in that organization cause Barney did it was undercut and done. We tried to salvage it, Tom did, others did, we kept it alive and in July, the President without calling one leader, went before military leaders and announced a policy of "Don't Ask Don't Tell". And that's what happened.
Tim McFeeley of HRC and group got arrested a week afterward and then the week after Tim McFeeley, twenty of us from ANGLE in California got arresred and that's when I chained myself to the White House fence. Overnight, Rahm Emanuel announce in the Wall Street Journal that I was persona non grata at the White House, they cancelled every one of my clients, and I was not able to work or bring in income for four years ... literally four years. I was blacklisted. I think there's a lot of problems with the Obama boy has but let me say this. I think Rahm Emanuel is basically governing as if it was 1992 and he is gun shy and he thinks the wisdom that he brings is the lessons they learned in 1992 and one of the lessons they believe they learned in 1992 - don't touch the gay community early. That was a mistake. Well, the mistake wasn't that we got involved with the gay issues early; the mistake was involved how badly Clinton handled it because no one wanted to touch this issue; no one wanted the gay desk. They finally shrugged it onto to some nobody in the Pentagon.
So he didn't learn the lesson about being prepared. He just said that we were toxic and I think we have enabled them to believe that. I think there's people out there who think we are at fault for what happened with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and far from it, there were many of us warning them, sounding alarms, meeting with them, building organizations to support them, and they fucked us. And I think Rahm has brought that attitude into the White House on a lot of issues - healthcare, gays and lesbians .... and hey, it's not 1992; it's eighteen years later. It's a different world. We're a different ..... we even communicate differently ... through the internet, and through IPhones, and IPods, and I don't know what the hell you all call it. It's not 1992. The world has changed dramatically since then but they're operating as if it's 1992. So .. I think he is a problem but on a number of issues, not just ours.