Alex Nicholson is an overachiever and self-described workaholic.
At just 29, he’s had an Army career, earned a college degree and master’s (he’s finishing up his political science Ph. D program now), learned four languages besides English, lived abroad and made enough money that he can donate his salary back to Servicemembers United, the organization for which he’s executive director.
But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Nicholson had been in the Army working as an interrogator at Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona for just a year when he was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2002. He’d written a letter in Portuguese to his former boyfriend — a Brazilian he’d met while living in Miami — and a colleague in his unit discovered it. It was an intelligence unit and she also happened to know Portuguese.
“For years I felt a lot of shame and embarrassment about it,” Nicholson says. “I didn’t know nearly what I know now about the issue then so I’ve gradually been able to put that experience into a broader perspective … It’s not really something to be ashamed of more than I was just a player caught up in a political game.”
Veterans Day, coming up Thursday, brings mixed emotions. Nicholson says he likes to use the day to bring focus to non-LGBT vet issues that also affect discharged gays.
“I really try to step back and not politicize it,” he says.
The Columbia, S.C., native went back to school, spent a year learning Arabic in Egypt on a Defense Department fellowship, and eventually began his work on “Don’t Ask” repeal activism.
He enjoys his work so much he says it doesn’t feel like work.
“I probably don’t need as much leisure time as most people because work for me is exciting, fun and exhilarating. I get a thrill out of lobbying and I really enjoy the work I do.”
But he would eventually like to find a relationship, he says. For now, he’s content unwinding with his TV favorites like “Judge Judy” and “The Golden Girls.”
Nicholson lives in Rosslyn.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
Since age 16. Mother.
Who’s your gay hero?
She’s not gay, but Julia Sugarbaker.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Tie between Nation (past) and Lizard Lounge (past). Now, ActiveDuty Thursdays at Nellie’s – DC’s gay military night.
What’s your dream gay wedding?
Never been turned on by the thought of a big gay wedding.
What non-gay issue are you most passionate about?
Reducing and deterring violent crime.
What historical outcome would you change?
The introduction of slavery to the U.S.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
Besides my pilgrimage to the “Golden Girls” home at MGM Studios, probably partying with celebs every weekend in the VIP lounge at Crobar Miami. Good times. Glad they’re over.
On what do you insist?
Truth and accuracy.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
“Was that a sonic boom over DC or Arlington at 7:35 this morning? Anyone else hear that? It woke me up from a dead sleep and scared the dickens out of me.” (Turned out to be the F-18 flyover for the Marine Corps Marathon.)
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“I Am Not An Activist!: One Activist’s Journey”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
At this stage in my life, I certainly wouldn’t change a thing.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
In civil rights activism, I’ve come to learn the higher the paycheck the lower the level of competence and effectiveness.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
What gay stereotype annoys you most?
What’s your favorite gay movie?
What’s the most overrated social custom?
No elbows on the table.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
The Nobel Prize for peace.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
What I really wanted to be doing at 28 so I could get a head start on it (note: what I’m doing now isn’t it).
It’s a pleasant city with a reasonable climate, most people you meet here are doing something interesting and important, and it’s the power center of the globe.