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When giants fall: honoring our LGBTQ+ elders

Voices Chris Cormier Maggiano David Mixner LGBTQ Activists
Courtesy of Chris Cormier Maggiano

Having just celebrated LGBTQ+ Elders Day earlier in May, how do we honor the leadership and legacies of those who have championed our rights?

Earlier this year, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community lost another giant when activist and presidential advisor David Mixner died after a full, impactful life. David was a friend who taught me so much about politics, liberation movements, and what it means to be a gay man. So many of us are heavy-hearted and will miss him dearly.

The LGBTQ+ and broader progressive communities have suffered immeasurable losses over the past few years. Whether you knew these giants, studied them, or didn’t know them, your rights and freedoms have likely increased due to their brilliance, generosity, and life-long commitment to equality and justice.

While not an exhaustive list, I am thinking of:

Henry van Ameringen (1930 - 2020)
Ambassador Jim Hormel (1933 - 2021)
Chuck Williams (1934 - 2023)
ABilly Jones-Hennin (1942 - 2024)
Amber Hollibaugh (1946 - 2023)
David Mixner (1946 - 2024)
Carmen Vázquez (1949 - 2021)
Urvashi Vaid (1958 - 2022)
Jonathan Lewis (1958 - 2023)
Cecilia Gentili (1972 - 2024)

This list represents nearly 700 years of queer joy, wisdom and leadership that shaped rights for LGBTQ+ people – all gone within a few years. These forces for equality have shaped our world. At a moment when our community is under attack, losing them as mentors, social justice warriors, and trailblazers feels heavy and unfair.

David Mixner went out of his way to mentor the next generation of LGBTQ+ activists and leaders. He opened the door for so many who came after him and was generous in sharing the wisdom he’d collected throughout his life. David’s political instincts were uncannily accurate, trusted, and sought out by generations of domestic and foreign leaders.

In 2012, when David told me we would win all four marriage ballot initiatives, I thought he was being overly optimistic. But of course, he was right. He used his decades of experience to guide our collective fight, counsel aspiring candidates, and leave the world better than the one he was born into.

The intensity of these dangerous days makes the loss feel even more acute. We – and especially our kids – are under fire.

Hate crimes against LGBTQ+ kids have more than quadrupled in states that have passed restrictive legislation around gender identity and sexual orientation. To date, nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the U.S., most of them targeting trans equality. Powerful politicians and well-resourced leaders are coming for our liberties and seeking control of our bodies – and they won’t stop at restricting IVF, contraception, and marriage equality.

Our community knows loss. It’s been forcefully stitched into our identity. From the suicides of the Lavender Scare and the generation lost to HIV / AIDS, to the split rail fence on which Matthew Shephard was tied and the 323 trans people killed last year alone. To be an LGBTQ+ person is to know grief. We who are left behind navigate rage, fear and sorrow. We must find a way to transform that pain into forward progress.

That’s why, when queer giants fall, we must grow a little taller. While we can’t fill their shoes, we can take the wisdom they harvested and use it to power up our own trailblazing efforts. We learn from their mistakes, honor their scars, and work to expand what’s achievable. Above all, take responsibility as individuals to stay engaged in the fight.

We dream up and actualize a new world that would make them proud.

We need a world where justice, not just equality, is finally realized. A world where all people are celebrated as an essential part of society because of - and not despite of - their sexual orientation and gender identity.

So what will you do when queer giants fall?

Whether or not you knew David or any of these giants, you have inherited their legacies. I urge you to use it to mobilize your friends this year, live more authentically, drive more energy and resources into the fight (I’m looking at you, dear gay white brothers), and continue to care for and widen the door for the next generation.

Because the thing about giants is that simply standing on their shoulders is not an acceptable option. It’s not enough to say we won’t forget them, give up, or cede the hard-fought victories they made possible. Standing still, even in our grief and loss, changes nothing.

Rest in power, queer giants, knowing we will not simply stand on your shoulders. We’ll march, dance, agitate, vote, and fight like hell to blaze new trails for our future inheritors.

Chris Cormier Maggianois President and Founder of Cormier & Company, advising funders, issue advocates, and movement leaders to achieve their policy, political, and philanthropic goals.

Voices is dedicated to featuring a wide range of inspiring personal stories and impactful opinions from the LGBTQ+ and Allied community. Visit to learn more about submission guidelines. We welcome your thoughts and feedback on any of our stories. Email us at Views expressed in Voices stories are those of the guest writers, columnists and editors, and do not directly represent the views of Out or our parent company, equalpride.
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