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Community Pioneers
Creators of Washington, DC's Gay Community

Dr. Melvin Boozer (2009 awardee)

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Mel Boozer

Native Washingtonian.
Photo © JEB/Joan E Biren

“I know what it means to be called a nigger and I know what it means to be called a faggot, and I understand the difference in the marrow of my bones.  And I can sum up that difference in one word: NONE.  Bigotry is bigotry.  Discrimination is discrimination.  It hurts just as much.”

“The priorities of Black gays cannot be fairly evaluated by the standards of a white agenda.”

“I am very much my own man.  No one tells me what to do... I feel it is imperative to be visibly Gay...”

In the eight years between receiving his PhD in Sociology from Yale in 1979 and his death from AIDS-related complications in 1987, Dr. Melvin Boozer blazed a brilliant trail through local and national gay politics.  In his brief but intense career he led the local Gay Activists Alliance, the DC office of the National Gay Task Force, and the Langston Hughes-Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club.

The same year that he received his degree from Yale, Mel Boozer began teaching at the University of Maryland in College Park and was elected to the first of two terms (1979-1981) as president of the Gay Activists Alliance in Washington, DC.

Mel’s ascent came in the midst of great social, intellectual and political ferment in DC’s African-American gay community.  A year earlier the DC Coalition of Black Gays and Lesbians had formed to give voice to the community’s political views and the National Coalition of Black Gays took the same role national.  That same year, Sidney Brinkley had created the first national black gay periodical, BlackLight, for which Mel Boozer would write and in which he would be written about.  During the years of his presidency at GAA, the first African-American lesbian organization, the Sapphire Sapphos was born, the ENIKAlley Coffeehouse opened in NE DC as a  major venue for the dawning African-American gay renaissance, and Mel himself was nominated at the Democratic Party convention in New York City as a candidate for Vice-President of the United States.  In a moving address on August 14, 1980 at the convention, he called for help in fighting discrimination against people like himself who were both black and gay. 

In October 1979, he marched in the first national March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.  In his tenure at the helm of GAA, he worked for recognition of the suffering of gays at the hands of the Nazis as plans proceeded for a national holocaust museum  addressing an Open Letter to President Carter.  Between 1979 and 1981he oversaw the establishment of the right for GAA to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, the right for GAA to place educational posters on Metrobuses saying “Someone in your life is gay.”, saw the campaign for a Civilian Review Board in the police succeed, and won unanimous assent to the decriminalization of sodomy in the City Council (later overturned by the US Congress).

In 1981 he was elected to the board of the National Gay Task Force and, following the end of his GAA presidency, opened the Task Force’s new Washington office.  During his two years at the DC office, the Task Force’s first lobbyist, Jeff Levi, established a presence and began lobbying on anti-violence and early AIDS issues.  In 1982, Mel co-founded the Langston Hughes-Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club to give greater voice to lesbians and gay blacks in the District.  He led the club in 1983 and 1984.

For the last four years of his life, Mel worked at the DC Association for Retarded Persons as a public information officer.  In February 1987, he was honored by Mayor Barry and DC Councilmembers for his contributions.  Following his death, African-American gay activists organized the Mel Boozer Roundtable to focus on issues particular to their community, including homophobic anti-gay violence.