Race, sexuality and politics: Accomplished activist shares life experiences with students

Race, sexuality and politics: Accomplished activist shares life experiences with students

By Riley Swinford

At one point, he was the highest-ranking openly gay person in the White House. He attended Harvard Law School with Barack Obama and he worked as an aide to Bill Clinton. He has hosted his own TV show and written best-selling books.

With all of these experiences to draw from, Keith Boykin was at SIU Wednesday to share one message: love.

Boykin, 47, was brought to campus to speak to students in Morris Library’s Guyon Auditorium as part of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History Month.


“My message today is to unlearn the fear that we have been taught and relearn the love with which we were born,” Boykin said.

He said fear teaches people that they should be constantly afraid of one another and that some group may be a threat. He said people should instead remember that love teaches that they don’t have to be afraid of everyone else.

“If you are worried about any of the problems that plague us as a society, as a country and as a world, if you believe in love, we have the ability to solve those problems,” he said. “I want to teach everyone to start thinking in the context of love instead of fear.”

To explain his message, Boykin, who is black, talked about race, sexuality and politics and the connections between the three.

He said he wanted to put the issues in the context of where America is today and apply them to college students.

“The reason why this is so important to me is because all three of these things are intersected,” he said. “The more information people have, the more likely they are to understand it and more likely they are to act in ways to protect themselves and others.”

Boykin grew up in St. Louis before he moved to Florida as a high school student, which is around the time he found out the man he thought was his father was not his biological dad.


“Once you found out that you aren’t connected to someone, you really start to reinterpret your purpose and place,” he said.

After high school, Boykin graduated from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. He then got his first taste of politics while working on Michael Dukakis’ bid for presidency in 1987.

Boykin then went back to school in 1992 and received a law degree from Harvard Law School, where he was classmates with Obama. While at Harvard, Boykin helped lead a movement for diversity on campus. It was also when Boykin said he began to realize he was gay.

After reading a book about being gay in one night that he bought from a bookstore, Boykin, who was 25, came out to himself and then to his mother the next day.

“I began this path of living my life with some sense of authenticity,” he said. “I began to take the path that felt authentic to me.”

Boykin said he wanted people to know, but he didn’t want to tell them. He said he has since learned that his message can be helpful for those who are struggling like he was.

“People don’t believe they know anyone who is gay or lesbian,” he said. “The people who don’t think they know anyone is far more likely to be homophobic than those who know they do.”

Boykin said education is the key to eliminating ignorance. He said many U.S. problems will solve themselves if people place an emphasis on educating themselves.

“Education benefits society as a whole,” he said. “We become more economically competitive, and our country is a better place. We become less racist, less sexist, less classist and all of these other things.”

Today, Boykin lives in New York and makes regular appearances on CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and BET as a political and social analyst. Boykin also released his newest book in August.

Wendy Weinhold, coordinator of the LGBTQ Resource Center, said she’s glad Boykin could come to campus. She said his appearance was not only beneficial to the LGBTQ community, but to black male students and other students as well.

“It’s such an exciting opportunity to have Keith Boykin on campus for a variety of reasons,” she said. “Having a leading African-American man who is such a model for our entire nation is really exciting.”

The event was sponsored by University Housing, the Africana Studies Department, the Black Male Initiative, the Center for Exclusive Excellence, the Counseling Center, the assistant chancellor for diversity’s office, the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute and the LGBTQ Resource Center, according to Derek Williams, the assistant director of the Center for Exclusive Excellence.