Arrived in Washington in
Photo © Patsy Lynch
“I have always been a political junky and for political junkies this is Mecca.”
“Because I had been involved in the civil rights movement, the Poor Peoples movement and the antiwar movement and the labor movement, it was pretty much an easy slide into the gay rights movement.”
Vic Basile, a civil rights, antiwar, and labor activist, has proven himself one of Washington’s most adept ‘out’ gay political strategists. His knowledge of political processes and how to use them to advance gay civil rights underlies many of the local and national advances our community has made since the 1970s. Luckily, his skills in fundraising have buoyed many of his political achievements.
Vic arrived in Washington from Massachusetts in 1971 without a job after spending 18 months in Hartford. His work in VISTA in the 1960s stood him in good stead when he found a job with ACTION, the agency overseeing VISTA and the Peace Corps.
In late 1979, he came out. He began by getting involved with the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club because a neighbor was member and brought him to the endorsement meeting for the 1980 elections. His experience with the labor movement was a skill Stein could use for building bridges between the gay community and organized labor. In short order he became involved as well with the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), working in 1982 on an ultimately fruitless attempt to preserve the 1981 Sexual Assault Reform Act decriminalizing sodomy in the District. Vic served as vice-president of GAA during Jeff Levi’s 1981-1982 presidential term, a period that saw improving relationships with the city’s police department.
In the 1970s he had helped organize the staff union at ACTION which affiliated with AFSCME, becoming president of the local, a connection which he used in 1982 on behalf of the Gay Rights National Lobby (GRNL) to secure AFSCME support for gay rights. Steve Endean, head of GRNL, saw the value of allying with organized labor and Vic’s work led to AFSCME taking a table at the ground-breaking1982 Human Rights Campaign Fund dinner at New York’s Waldorf Astoria.
His growing prominence in local political affairs and his relationship with GRNL drew him further into national gay politics. In 1983, he was selected as the first executive director of HRCF a post he held until 1989. Building on Endean’s efforts at gay lobbying, Vic brought structure and direction to HRCF, building funding and constituent pressure capabilities.
As Vic notes, AIDS had a profound impact on HRCF. Tragically, the organization lost several board members to AIDS, as but it also brought many new leaders to the organization and to the movement and created a revolution in giving. Many wealth gay men came out and gave generously in support of HRCF. As the anger over the Federal Government’s inaction on AIDS grew, Vic and 63 fellow protesters were arrested in front of the White House in 1987 by police wearing yellow rubber gloves.
By the end of the decade and with the organization growing rapidly, Vic Basile felt it was time to move on and to make way for new leadership. Within a year, he and Terry Bean were organizing the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, of which Vic became the principal strategist and fundraiser.
Vic’s work on behalf of the LGBT community, national and local, has continued without rest as he has taken positions in two Democratic administrations, worked in support of Equality Maryland, and recently served as executive director of Baltimore’s Moveable Feast, a nonprofit providing meals for homebound people living with AIDS.