Michiganders are one step closer to equality since President Obama affirmed his support for same-sex marriage in May. The goal now for many, is to get him re-elected for a second term.
“We have to make sure he’s back in office because Romney wants to write discrimination into our constitution which will take people’s rights away from them. I don’t understand how anyone can think that’s positive. Our constitution is built on equality for all,” said former NFL player Wade Davis, an official surrogate and speaker for President Obama’s re-election as of three months ago.
The president’s statement “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married” set the celebratory tone for Pride Month despite the 2004 amendment to Michigan’s constitution which bans same-sex marriage. Feeling energized, thousands of LGBT people and their supporters attended Motor City Pride at Hart Plaza last weekend.
Davis was in the crowd with local Organizing for America http://www.barackobama.com/mi volunteers, a grassroots advocacy group within the Democratic National Committee that works to advance the Obama agenda.
“To come on this day is great because I get a really good chance to experience Detroit. It’s amazing to see the excitement. The booth was packed the entire day,” said Davis, who took action to register new voters, collect signatures from interested volunteers, and provide the community with information about what President Obama has been doing for LGBT people since 2008.
Davis was born in Arkansas, spent most of his childhood in Louisiana and spent his teenage years in Colorado, hiding the truth about who he is. “To be perfectly honest with you, because I was so afraid of my own gender identity and orientation growing up I was in fact an actual bully. I was an athlete. I was popular. I was so afraid to be who I was, that I poked fun at a lot of others. By me having a chance to work for the Obama campaign and work with LGBT youth everyday, it’s a chance for me to really give back and really pay it forward,” he said.
“We are really trying to get the word out. Because the president’s statement is a hot button, people may forget that our president is for everyone, not just for black, white, rich, poor, gay straight, for everyone. That’s what his platform is about, moving this country forward. So equality is not just for sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said.
Davis played with the Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks and eventually the Washington Redskins from 2000 to 2004 before coming out as gay. He won an NFL Europe championship with the Berlin Thunder as well. He presently serves as the Director of Player Development for the New York Gay Football League. His public announcement coincided with his participation on the sports advisory board through the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network’s Changing the Game http://sports.glsen.org/ program, which is designed to fight homophobia in K-12 athletics by starting a dialogue about the issue.
Through GLSEN, Davis found his second dream job as the Assistant Director of Job Readiness and Career Exploration at the Hetrick-Martin Institute http://www.hmi.org in New York where he resides. He works everyday with LGBT youth. “One of my biggest goals is to teach our youth how to think. Not tell them what to think, but teach them how to think and think critically. And to challenge assumptions and perceptions that are out there. Also to understand how important what the president did is for their lives. Yes, they may be 12, 13 and 14 years old now, but in 10 years they will see the impact,” said Davis, who wakes up excited every morning to go to work.
Davis said he believes President Obama is changing a lot of the public perceptions around LGBT people and the issues faced by the community. While he felt the pressure to hide his sexuality in the NFL, and to avoid those who were suspected of being gay or bisexual, he encourages young LGBT athletes to be proud of who they are.
“I think the great part about what the president did is that people really understand that gay and lesbian people are just like them. There is no difference and there are conversations that are happening now on high school teams, on college teams, and on pro teams,” said Davis. “Leaving my NFL career is definitely worth it. I never thought I would say that. People often ask if I could go back, would I, and I can’t give an honest answer because I really love what I do now.”
And he’s getting results. During a recent trip to the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, Davis took a group of kids to run a workshop on how to be an ally. “After the workshop, one of the youth said to me ‘you’ve been one of my biggest allies for as long as I can remember and you’ve helped to change my life.’ This let’s me know that I’m doing this for the right reasons,” he said, adding that because he is viewed as a celebrity, it’s important for him to be authentic and consistent, and to make sure that our youth know there’s someone in their corner who’s an actual ally, who’s not afraid to be truthful to them and to allow them to grow.
Davis has a few allies of his own, including his great friend Darnell Moore and his partner of five and a half years. “I call him my little hero. He’s taught me to stop wishing and start dreaming and there’s a big difference between those two.” He is also obsessed with James Baldwin. “I spent the entire Memorial Day weekend listening to his speeches and reading some of his books and writing. I’m just so inspired by him.”
At 34 years old, Davis has to pinch himself sometimes when he thinks about the work he is doing.
“To be able to work for the president in the capacity that I do is surreal,” said Davis. “I want to do as much as I can and do more and work my fingers to the bone. I’ll fly here and fly there. I just don’t care. Whether I get to meet him one day or not doesn’t matter. The work that I’m allowed to do for him makes me feel as if I already know him because of the way he carries himself. Just to be able to talk about a man who I respect, who I look at as so relatable, who could be me, who has so many things that I admire and aspire to be is just one of the most amazing things in the world.”