By Emma Way
Student Life Editor
On Tuesday, Oct. 14, Washington College welcomed esteemed civil rights activist and political strategist David Mixner. Although the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and the Goldstein Program sponsored the talk, Junior Shane Benz was the driving force behind bringing Mixner to campus.
During Benz’s senior year of high school, he read Mixner’s book “Stranger Among Friends,” and it inspired him to reach out to Mixner. “His story really resonated with me,” said Benz. “At that time I was sill closeted, now I’m openly gay.”
After reading Mixner’s book, Benz emailed him with little hope that he would get a response back. Instead, he said, “I got a response as if I was a close friend. He responded with so many great words of encouragement and inspiration that it almost overwhelmed me with emotion.”
Since then Benz and Mixner have stayed in contact and fostered a friendship. For years the two have been trying to put together an event to bring Mixner to campus, and on Tuesday it was made a reality. According to the Director of the C.V. Starr Center Adam Goodheart, Benz “gets all the credit for making this happen.”
Mixner has been involved in a long list of activism movements. He was a prominent activist in the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam as well as in the LGBT rights movement. Peter Scott, Mixner’s partner, and Mixner personally met with then-Governor of California Ronald Reagan and convinced him to publicly oppose Proposition 6, also known as the Briggs Initiative. The Briggs Initiative would have banned gays and gay rights supporters from working in California’s public schools.
According to Benz, Mixner came out in a time when it was not accepted to be a gay man. “He eventually rose to reconcile who he is with what he desired to do in life. [Mixner] really displayed an immense amount of courage in standing up for what he believed in as an open…citizen,” he said.
Today, the topic of gays rights, specifically same-sex marriage, is still hotly debated. On Oct. 6, the Supreme Court rejected to take action on the appeals of many state’s same-sex marriage cases, and by doing so created a majority of states that allow same-sex marriage. “It’s thrilling that WC will, in a sense, get a front-row glimpse of the movement at this moment when history is being made in our country,” said Goodheart.
Policies and attitudes are changing rapidly in the US because of the activism of people like Mixner. “After reading his book…I knew that I wanted to follow his path of being open and fighting for the betterment of my fellow citizens,” Benz said.
“Many college students today see no issue with LGBT individuals having the same civil rights as other Americans, but the widespread adoption of this viewpoint is really quite recent,” said Chair of the Political Science Department Melissa Deckman. “Mixner was a pioneer because decades ago, he was willing to be front and center in a nascent cause despite facing public intolerance.”
Mixner was instrumental in many activism movements and in inspiring people, like Benz. Benz hoped Mixner was able to inspire others to be open and accepting, regardless of sexuality.