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Boykin, Keith (b. 1965)  
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Activist and author Keith Boykin has committed his life to advancing the rights of the African-American and glbtq communities and to enhancing communication between them.

Keith Boykin's life began on a date that he finds particularly meaningful, August 28, 1965, the second anniversary of Martin Luther King's inspirational "I Have a Dream" speech and also the birthday of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a pioneering advocate for glbtq rights.

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Boykin was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but his family soon moved to the overwhelmingly white suburb of Florissant, where he felt "a little out of place." Nevertheless, he thrived, excelling at academics, participating in student government, and playing on several sports teams at school.

Boykin's parents separated while he was in grade school, but he remained in close contact with the two of them and with relatives on both sides of the family, including an uncle who was a church organist, gospel musician, and "a flamboyant gay man," although, Boykin recalled, "I did not even know at the time that he was gay or, for that matter, what it meant to be gay."

When Boykin was fifteen, his mother, a government employee, was transferred to California, and his father moved to Florida to start a business. Boykin was once again an excellent and engaged student at his high school in Florida--the president of the student government, an editor of the school newspaper, and an award-winning debater. He also made the varsity track team but decided against competing in wrestling, which he had done in Missouri, for fear that his new schoolmates might think that he was gay.

His high school achievements won him acceptance at Dartmouth College, where he continued to excel. He won the William S. Churchill Prize for outstanding freshman man in 1984 and the Barrett Cup as the most distinguished member of the graduating class in 1987. In between, he was editor-in-chief of the college newspaper, an exchange student at the Universidad de Grenada in Spain, and a member of a highly successful track team that vied for an NCAA championship. Boykin competed in national and international track events and set a school record for the 500-meter run.

Upon graduating from Dartmouth, Boykin became a press aide in the presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis and was subsequently named the candidate's Georgia state press secretary. Following the defeat of Dukakis in the 1988 election, Boykin remained in Georgia, teaching English and social studies at Lithonia High School.

Boykin successfully applied to Harvard Law School and began his course of study there in 1989. He took an active role in campus life, serving as an editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review and becoming a leader in the Coalition for Civil Rights, a student group dedicated to the cause of a more diverse faculty.

It was while Boykin was at Harvard that he came to terms with his sexual orientation. Having realized that he was gay, he turned to prayer "for strength in facing the unknown and the then unforeseeable challenges [he] would encounter as an openly gay black man."

Boykin described his first steps out of the closet as "tentative." He attended a forum during Harvard's Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian Awareness Week and soon thereafter went to a bookstore where he "searched for a how-to book on being gay."

The first person to whom he came out was his mother, who was not entirely surprised by the revelation. Although at the time, Boykin wrote, "I think she held out hope . . . that I might change," she expressed her love and support for him, and the two continue to be extremely close.

Boykin began a relationship with a fellow law student and started coming out to friends and classmates. Revealing his sexual orientation to his extended family was a much more gradual process. While some relatives, including his sister, were immediately accepting and supportive, others condemned his "lifestyle" upon learning that he was gay. His grandmother declared herself sickened by the news. "It would be years before she would begin to change her attitude about my homosexuality," Boykin wrote, but she did eventually come around.

After graduating from Harvard in 1992, Boykin accepted a job at a San Francisco law firm where he had worked the previous summer. He soon left, however, to join the staff of the Bill Clinton presidential campaign as Midwest press director.

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Keith Boykin.
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