LGBTQ+ Victory Fund’s William Waybourn (third from right) and other LGBTQ+ leaders at a historic Oval Office meeting with President Clinton. Courtesy of President Bill Clinton White House
In April 1993, LGBTQ+ leaders including Victory Fund executive director William Waybourn were invited to a historic meeting with President Clinton in the Oval Office just before the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. Yet three months later, in July, Waybourn was among twenty-eight arrested at the White House gate protesting Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”—a “compromise” policy replacing the promise of a complete lifting of the ban on open military service.
A real turning point in LGBTQ+ political power came when former anti–Vietnam War activists David Mixner and Bill Clinton rekindled their friendship in 1992.
It wasn’t easy. Mixner had lost 300 friends to AIDS, including his beloved partner, Peter Scott, and he and Lynn Greer were working hard as board co-chairs for Victory Fund. William Waybourn “did a brilliant job in getting the organization off the ground on a daily basis,” Mixner says, a “huge challenge” since so many donors had died and others were financially stretched funding AIDS organizations.
Greater LGBTQ+ representation was a necessity, but LGBTQ+ politicos were pariahs. In 1988, Mixner and checkbook activists Randy Klose, Duke Comegys, and David Wexler offered Michael Dukakis’s presidential campaign $1 million in bundled “lavender” dollars. They were rebuffed.
“We just sat there aghast. How can we be at the apex of this epidemic and the Democrats won’t even touch us as a group?” Mixner told journalist Karen Ocamb in 2016.
In late 1991, presidential aspirant Clinton called Mixner, expecting automatic support. Mixner said the dark horse candidate needed to secure the endorsement of ANGLE, another gay rights organization, given Victory Fund only endorsed LGBTQ+ candidates, and Clinton received it. But ANGLE’s support was soon put to the test with the Gennifer Flowers sex scandal. Clinton seemed like the walking dead, Mixner recalls.
ANGLE remained loyal while also making demands for their participation in a February fundraiser at the Beverly Wilshire hotel, hosted by future Secretary of State Warren Christopher. They wanted a private LGBTQ+ reception for out San Francisco Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg to introduce Clinton, hoping her raised visibility would lead to a presidential appointment.
“I would say a third, maybe even half the people at this straight dinner were gays and lesbians,” says Mixner. “That put us on the map—that was a turning point. We proved that we would be friends through thick and thin.”
But tensions remained. The historic “I have a vision and you’re a part of it” speech at the Hollywood Palace in May 1992 almost didn’t happen. When the campaign said “absolutely no press,” Mixner balked and said he was willing to return the $100,000 raised from the packed house. The campaign caved.
“We have all come a long way tonight,” Mixner said, introducing Clinton, the Los Angeles Times recalled in a historical recap on May 13, 2012. “No one handed us this event tonight . . . we earned it, inch by inch, step by step, moment by moment.”
The glowing headlines helped make Clinton viable. Mixner and LGBTQ+ supporters raised $3.2 million and galvanized the first-ever gay voting bloc. A national Voter News Service exit poll showed that self-identified gays, lesbians, and bisexuals made up 3.2 percent of votes for Clinton.