Mel Boozer grew up in a series of homes without electricity. Graduating second in the 1963 class of Dunbar High, the school of choice for Washington, D.C.’s most high-achieving black students, he won a scholarship to Dartmouth, where he was one of only three African Americans in the freshman class. His roommate, rather than share a room with a person of color, moved out. After completing fieldwork in Brazil and earning a Ph.D. in sociology at Yale, Boozer moved back to his hometown, where he became active in politics as president of the Gay Activists Alliance, Washington director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and founder of the Langston Hughes–Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club for gay and lesbian blacks.
Boozer’s prominence in the mostly white milieu of D.C.’s early gay-rights movement was unusual, not least because of his local roots. Four decades ago, it took considerably more courage for a D.C. native to come out as a gay activist; most gay people (like most straight people) in the District were transplants. “It’s a lot easier to come out and be politically active in the gay community when you don’t live near your family than when you do,” Boozer told The Advocate magazine.
On the surface, Mel Boozer might seem to have little in common with Pete Buttigieg, Rhodes Scholar, McKinsey consultant, veteran, son of college professors, and mayor of South Bend, Indiana. But the first openly gay presidential candidate to mount a serious campaign for the presidency follows in the footsteps of Boozer, the first openly gay person to be nominated for a major-party presidential ticket.