• Photo for Activist Keith Boykin wins wrestling gold
    Photo Credit: courtesy of Keith Boykin

Activist Keith Boykin wins wrestling gold

By Damin Esper

For Keith Boykin, just standing on the 50-yard line at Soldier Field was a thrill. On July 14, he got to walk out on the field during a rehearsal for the opening ceremonies for the Gay Games, which were held the next day. Three days later, he walked away with wrestling gold.

But in a lot of ways, Boykin is always on the 50-yard line. Boykin is a longtime activist, fitness buff and purveyor of the popular blog, He is in Chicago for the seventh Gay Games where he won gold in Monday's wrestling tournament. He also was selected to make a short speech during the opening ceremonies.

It's all in a week's work for the ever-busy Boykin. Just a week before, he was fighting to stop a reggae concert in New York City because the artists involved advocate violence against homosexuals in some of their songs. Oh and he was invited to Montel Williams' 50th birthday party—he couldn't attend because he was working on the concert issue.

The LIFEbeat concert, originally scheduled for July 18, is a perfect example of Boykin's activism. The concert was to be a benefit for HIV/AIDS prevention. However, Beenie Man and TOK were scheduled to be on the bill. According to Boykin, Beenie Man's song “Han Up Deh” includes lyrics that refer to hanging lesbians with a long piece of rope. TOK's song “Chi Chi Man” (Chi Chi is a Jamaican term for a homosexual) talks about burning Chi Chi Men.

Boykin had just written about a similar concert that was stopped in England. A reader sent him a message informing him of the New York concert. Boykin, who lives in New York, didn't believe it.

"A lot of artists are homophobic," he said. "These ones were encouraging people to kill homosexuals."

Boykin sent a letter to LIFEbeat's director on July 7. He also posted it on his blog. Several other activists spread the word. By July 12, LIFEbeat had cancelled the concert. LIFEbeat claimed in a statement that it cancelled the concert out of a fear of violence stirred up by "a select group of activists."

The victory came quicker than Boykin thought it would, a result that shows the modern power of the internet for activists. Boykin said he had recognized that power in his four years blogging.

"I just hadn't seen it come together in such a short period of time," he said. "I was so proud of the people in our community who decided to write in and email."

Boykin's journey to the Gay Games took a little longer. The 40-year old ran track and wrestled in high school and continued with track when he attended Dartmouth. However, he dropped out of running after college, although he enjoyed working out with weights. Earlier this year, he decided he wanted to compete in wrestling again. He documented his fitness regimen on his blog, and qualified in the 180-pound division at the Games.

In between his athletic careers, Boykin campaigned for Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton, went to law school at Harvard, came out, served for two years in the Clinton White House, wrote his first book ("One More River to Cross; Black and Gay in America"), taught and got into activism. Oh, and as if that didn't take all his time, he worked out throughout that nearly 20-year period.

"I started working out, lifting weights, back in 1986," Boykin said. "It was the year I took off from the track team (to be an editor at the school paper). Coach wanted me to stay in shape. Then I started getting bigger, more muscular and I decided that I liked it.

"(Working out) never stopped. What stopped was running. I realized I hate running."

Now, Boykin is able to combine his activist life with his athletic one. His speech at the opening ceremonies was about continuing the fight against HIV/AIDS.

"We have fought the good fight, but we are a weary army in desperate need of comfort and assurance," Boykin said in the speech. "So as we gather today, we have come to a turning point in this conflict."

He told the crowd that, "until there's a cure, there must be a fight." It was an inspiring speech. But it wasn't the most inspiring moment of the ceremonies to Boykin. That came when, during the parade of nations, a single athlete from Uganda marched into the stadium.

"I cried when I saw him march in by himself," Boykin said. He added that they were tears of joy.