Boykin, Keith 1965-

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BOYKIN, Keith 1965-

PERSONAL: Born August 28, 1965, in St. Louis, MO; son of William Boykin (in sales; a small business owner) and Shirley Hayes (a federal government employee). Ethnicity: "African American." Education: Dartmouth College, B.A., 1987; Harvard University, J.D., 1992.

ADDRESSES: Offıce—P.O. Box 73564, Washington, DC 20056-3564.

CAREER: High school teacher at public schools in DeKalb County, GA, 1989; Bryan Cave (law firm), St. Louis, MO, legal intern, 1990; McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen (law firm), San Francisco, CA, legal intern, 1991; Patton, Boggs & Blow (law firm), Washington, DC, legal intern, 1991; special assistant to President Bill Clinton, 1993-95; National Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum, executive director, 1995-98; writer, 1998—. American University, adjunct professor of government, 1999-2000. Political campaign worker for Michael Dukakis, 1988, and Bill Clinton, 1992.

AWARDS, HONORS: Muhammad Kenyatta Young Alumni Award, Harvard Black Law Students Association, 1994.


One More River to Cross: Black and Gay in America, Anchor Press (New York, NY), 1996.

Respecting the Soul: Daily Reflections for Black Lesbians and Gays, Avon Books (New York, NY), 1999.

Contributor to books, including Atonement: The Million Man March, edited by Kim Martin Sadler, Pilgrim Press (Cleveland, OH), 1996.

SIDELIGHTS: Keith Boykin is the author of a successful book that addresses being both black and gay in the United States. He also garnered much attention during the controversy in 1996 over the authorship of the book Primary Colors. The book was an anonymously written novel which told of the activities of President Clinton's election campaign in 1992. The Wall Street Journal stated that "President Clinton's guess is that Keith Boykin, an ex-campaign aide, wrote the novel." Although this proved to be false, Boykin said in an interview with Contemporary Black Biography that he was "surprised at the attention that story received."

Boykin was born August 28, 1965, at Homer Phillips Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. Boykin describes his family as "upwardly mobile" in his book, One More River to Cross: Black and Gay in America—the title coming from the Negro spiritual One More River. Boykin has a younger sister, Krystal, who was born a little over a year later. Boykin's father was a bus driver at the time of his birth. Over the following years his father would progress to become an insurance salesman, a computer salesman, and eventually begin his own business. His mother worked for the military as a civilian employed in procurement.

Shortly after Boykin's sister was born, the family moved from the predominately black inner city to an apartment in the "mostly white suburbs," he noted in One More River to Cross. It was not too long before his family bought a house in the St. Louis suburb of Florissant. His family remained there until he was fifteen. Remembering those days, Boykin said in his book, "I was lucky to have a family that believed in my dreams and I suffered no lack of creativity in my fantasies. Often I would close my door and dream about anything and everything, from what it would be like to go to college to imagining the life of the President." Although Boykin says he was not sure what the position required, he often pretended he was riding around in a limousine imagining he was president of the United States. Although he has not run for office in elective politics as an adult, he was elected to different offices in his school years. He was the student body president of his elementary school and was also elected student government president of his mostly white high school.

Although Boykin's parents separated when he was in elementary school, both continued to raise the children. For several years he split time between his mother's home on the weekends and his father's home during the week. When he was fifteen both parents moved, his mother to Stockton, California, and his father to Clearwater, Florida. Boykin and his sister went to live with their father. About this time, Boykin stated in One More River to Cross, he began to feel different in some way from his family and the people in his school. "We [the family] were all different from the majority of our neighbors. But something else was different about me, and I felt it distinguished me not only from my friends but from my family as well. . . . I knew something inside me was happening and I was frightened that I would not be able to deal with it."

Boykin is referring in these passages to the often difficult process of coming out as a gay man. On the one hand he speaks of dating women in high school. On the other hand he speaks of sneaking out to watch wrestling practice at high school so he could see the team members in their wrestling outfits. He seems to have done much self-evaluation during this process by writing in a journal he kept. Boykin was twenty-five years old and a second-year law student before he finally came to the realization that he was gay. He said it finally dawned on him because of a friendship he had with a fellow student he met at Harvard. In his book Boykin reflects on all the negative stereotypes he carried about gays throughout his adolescence and how it was difficult for him to rationalize these stereotypes with how he was feeling.

"Since I was not particularly effeminate and had never desired to dress in women's clothes, I thought I could not possibly be gay. I identified homosexuality not by sexual behavior but primarily by failure to conform to gender roles," he commented in One More River to Cross. Boykin wrote in his book that he went through a period of crisis with his religious and political beliefs before he finally decided to come out to his family. He said in One More River to Cross, "I feared that at worst I would be ostracized by my friends and disqualified from opportunities in politics and public life." Boykin continued, "If my political goals meant anything, I reasoned, then they meant that my personal life would make a political statement as well. Just being myself, and learning to be unafraid in doing so, would be the ultimate political accomplishment."

Boykin left Clearwater in 1983 to attend college at Dartmouth in New Hampshire. He graduated with a degree in government in 1987. His interest in politics was renewed when he worked on the presidential campaign of Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis in 1988. It was during this campaign that he first met then-Governor Bill Clinton, when Clinton was giving the nominating speech at the Democratic National Convention for Dukakis. After the Democrats lost the 1988 election, Boykin moved to where his father was then living in Atlanta. He began applying to law schools while he was teaching high school.

Boykin was accepted into Harvard's law school and began study in the fall of 1989. The following summer he served as intern at the Bryan Cave law firm in St. Louis. The summer after that he was an intern in both San Francisco and Washington, DC, where he worked at the law firm where late Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown worked.

During 1991 Boykin was one of the student leaders in protests aimed against the Harvard administration. Many students had joined law professor Derrick Bell in voicing their concerns over the lack of progress in diversifying the faculty at Harvard. Students held several boycotts of classes to garner public attention for what they felt was Harvard's neglect of promises to diversify faculty. In the Bay State Banner Boykin declared, "I think Harvard feels the pressure. I don't think that they will respond adequately until they feel more pressure." Boykin also noted in the article that, "what they're not doing is making any genuine effort to understand the motivation behind diversity and understand that goal." He also spent time at Harvard working on race relations, where he was extensively involved in a joint forum on Black-Korean relations. The forum was sponsored by the Black Law Students Association and the Asian-American Law Students Association.

Early in 1992 Boykin and a couple of friends drove from Massachusetts to New Hampshire to meet then-Governor Bill Clinton. Clinton was campaigning in New Hampshire's presidential primary. Boykin ended up working part-time for Clinton, who moved to the head of the list of contenders for the Democratic Party's nomination for President.

When Boykin graduated from law school in the summer of 1992, he took a job in San Francisco with a well-known local law firm. He did not remain there long however, as Clinton asked him to come to Little Rock to work for him there on the presidential campaign. When the campaign was over, Boykin stayed there to work on the inaugural functions. Then Boykin was asked to work in the White House as a special assistant to the president, first as director of news analysis, then as director of specialty press. In that position Boykin coordinated communication from the White House to the non-mainstream media, which covered everything from environmental newsletters to African-American newspapers.

In 1995 Boykin left the White House to write a book. He states its purpose in the preface: "One More River to Cross chronicles the experiences of hundreds of black lesbians and gay men and explores their interactions with the white gay community and straight black community," including interactions in the black church. His book examines race and sexual orientation in many different forms, often taking on many different groups of people for their homophobic and racist beliefs. According to a reviewer in the San Francisco Chronicle, "the real strength of his book is that he shows, with quiet but unassailable logic, how prejudice can flourish in any part of the culture and prevent everyone from crossing that final river."

Boykin became the executive director of the National Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum in 1995. The function of the organization is to provide black lesbians and gays training and skills they need to survive and thrive in the world around them. "We have many challenges before us, but none is more important than the battle for the nation's heart and soul," Boykin was quoted as saying in the St. Petersburg Times. "The radical right has launched a full-scale assault on budget priorities, AIDS funding, affirmative action and public education. African Americans and gays and lesbians are the prime targets of these attacks." The journalist in the St. Petersburg Times noted of Boykin that "his impetus in accepting his current position was seeing in the black community 'a denial that some people are gay.'"

One place where Boykin chose to be out about his sexuality and help people see visible gay blacks was in the October, 1995, Million Man March in Washington, DC. "All of us were taught something," Boykin commented in the Richmond Times Dispatch. "When black gays and lesbians believe in themselves enough to come out of the closet, the black community not only accepts them, but respects them."



Boykin, Keith, One More River to Cross: Black and Gay in America, Anchor Press (New York, NY), 1996.

Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 14, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.


Bay State Banner (Boston, MA), April 9, 1992.

Black Scholar, spring, 1997, review of One More River to Cross: Black and Gay in America, p. 75.

Newsday, July 6, 1991, p. 9.

Richmond Times Dispatch, December 9, 1996, p. B1.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 22, 1992, p. 1C.

St. Petersburg Times, September 28, 1995, City section, p. 1.

San Francisco Chronicle, October 28, 1996, review of One More River to Cross, p. E7.

Wall Street Journal, February 9, 1996, p. A1.

Washington Post Book World, January 4, 1998, review of One More River to Cross, p. 12.


Keith Author, Lecturer, Activist, (May 11, 2004).


Additional information for this profile was obtained from an interview with Boykin on January 27, 1997.*