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Activist and author Vic Basile wants queer people to know their history

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Once upon a dark time, Vic Basile was too concerned with fighting to keep his gay community alive to even care about the prospect of marriage equality. Still, the activist became the first to helm what became the most prominent LGBT lobbying group in the US, and thankfully, he witnessed his fingerprints impact queer history —progress happened sooner than he could ever imagine. 

But to be served all that tea, you’ll need to buy his memoir “Bending Toward Justice: A Memoir of Two Decades of LGBT Leadership and the Founding of the Human Rights Campaign.” So.Gay sat down with the revolutionary author to discuss the nuances of his impressive life. Was it hard to date while leading such a controversial movement? How did the labor of writing from the heart compare to his vocal activism? How has a fearless man who helped lead gay civil rights changed?

So.Gay had questions. 

Vic Basile had answers. 

So.Gay: What happened, Vic? A lifetime of activism and changing the world wasn’t enough to stay retired? 

Vic Basile: Ha, now that the book is written, and besides the occasional interview, I’m retired! But I am always looking for the next thing to do, so who knows? 

SG: So, let’s talk about that. As a writer who has been working on my own book for the past few years, I know it painstakingly doesn’t happen overnight. When was the idea for [Bending Toward Justice] planted?

VB: The idea was formed a decade ago, but I didn’t get serious about it until three years ago. My whole career has been about political activism, and I first wanted to tell the movement’s history.

SG:  But you weren’t born a gay rights revolutionary warrior. Do you remember the moment in your life that inspired you to make it your mission? 

VB: I was married for ten years, then I came out at 33. I figured things out late in life. But I was already political, so I started to get involved with things here in DC. Then I got more involved, and it just suddenly became this passion. Then, a job at the HRC opened up, and I applied…

SG: Did it all just click from there?

VB: It did! 

SG: When I interview people who played such a huge role in advancing gay rights, they are shocked by the drastic changes that have been able to happen in their lives. A long time ago, you said, ‘Oh no, we’re not interested’ when it came to gay marriage. Do you still feel that way?

VB: Oh no! That was a short-sighted statement I made…. But no one in the movement at that point was fighting for gay marriage. We were fighting AIDS. We were trying to pass the civil rights bill! 

SG: You were so concerned with survival that marriage just seemed like a luxury? 

VB: You know, I guess it did. Nobody was talking about it! It never occurred to me that we could be fighting for it at some point in the near future. It was a red herring from our issues for the right wing to throw out. They made it seem like all we wanted to do was get married, but we wanted our civil rights. 

SG: The current HRC President, Kelley Robinson, told me that before taking the job, she spoke about the potential dangers that came with it and that she needed to go over them with her wife and family. Has it been hard for you to date as an activist?

VB: I never really worried about my safety… Perhaps I should have, but it never occurred to me that there could be a problem.  I began a relationship around the same time I started at HRC, and it didn’t seem to bother him that I was doing this, even though gay bashings were happening around that time. They seemed to be situational, like someone walking alone on the street. 

SG: I guess you almost need a healthy dose of naivety to fearlessly take charge of the movement. Was it hard getting your soul to paper when it came time to write about it?

VB: It was one of the hardest things I have ever done! I’ve never written to tell a story before. And so that was a new skill set that I needed to develop.

SG: When people finish reading your book, what would you like them to take away from it?

VB: I think about what I experienced with what works and doesn’t work in politics; pragmatic politics is what works. Walking the halls of Congress, lobbying the members of Congress, and donating to your desired politician’s campaign are the keys to success. 

SG: I feel that’s important because queer people have to be aware you can’t take your foot off the pedal. I mean, you’ve helped give us all these rights, yet here we still are with all this conservative gloom and doom. It’s a paradox for our community to accomplish all this while continuing to face so much hatred. What’s the solution if equal rights are not enough?

VB: I think you’re right. The solution is for people to keep coming out to their families. It’s sometimes the only way to change hearts. We need to keep coming forward. A lot of people don’t even know one person who is gay or transgender. 

SG: I love that because there’s so much talk, especially by celebrities, that people shouldn’t need to come out or say their identities. It’s like, yes, maybe in a perfect world, but this is America. Our power is in numbers and as much visibility as possible that we’re human! Coming out is the biggest form of activism that exists. 

VB: I completely agree. 

You can purchase Vic Basile’s memoir at the link here: Bending Toward Justice: A Memoir of Two Decades of LGBT Leadership and the Founding of the Human Rights Campaign.

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