“Obama Pride: LGBT Americans for Obama” kicked off this week in cities across the country, including at a launch party Tuesday night at Woody’s.
“This is about engaging the LGBT community in our efforts on the ground,” said Jamie Citron, Obama for America National LGBT Vote Director, about the new campaign on a conference call this week. “One of the most powerful tools this campaign has is our ground team and the volunteer teams we’re building across the country. We want to make sure LGBT communities are a core part of the program and the team as we move forward towards victory in November. It’s not just about voter turnout, it’s about making sure the LGBT community is part of the effort on the ground.”
The Philadelphia celebration included backing from local LGBT activists and advocates, as well as remarks by Wade Davis, an openly gay former National Football League player.
Davis played for the Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins from 2000-04. He came out publicly last year and is now working as a fitness trainer and mentor for LGBT youth.
Growing up in the church, Davis said he wasn’t exposed to the topic of sexuality in his youth but began to understand his own orientation in his junior year of high school.
“I had heard the terms when I was younger, but I didn’t really understand what it meant,” he said. “But when I finally started to realize that I was gay, I was like, ‘Oh shit.’”
Davis kept his realization to himself for years, however.
“I thought I had to just put it away, in a closet for lack of a better word, and focus on football and my grades,” he said. “I loved playing sports, and I believed that if I came out, that would be taken away from me because people would question my masculinity.”
Davis said homophobia was most prevalent in the locker room during his high-school years, an attitude that faded throughout college and into the NFL.
While Davis said many believe that the sports world is one of the last bastions of homophobia, he gradually saw that “most athletes feel that as long as you do your job on the field, they don’t care what you do off the field.”
Once he got off the NFL field, he returned to Colorado and said the pressures of hiding his identity became too much.
“I was there for about six months and I just thought, I’m exhausted. I was in the closet for far too long, and doing all these stereotypical heterosexual things just became too much,” he said. “So I moved to New York City and didn’t look back.”
Davis went to his first gay club, met a wide circle of LGBT friends and became a member of the New York Gay Football League.
“I had this realization of, ‘Wow, you can actually be gay and play sports. It’s OK.’ It was this whole evolution of me coming to terms with who I was, what it meant to me to be gay and accepting how playing sports and being gay really can work together.”
Another evolution has been at the forefront of the American consciousness in the past few weeks, as Obama announced his long-awaited support for marriage equality.
Davis said he doesn’t expect the decision to have negative implications for the president this fall.
“I think November will be the culmination of people saying, ‘I want a president who looks like me, acts like me, who is for fairness and equality, for four more years,’” he said.
While some have expressed concerns that Obama’s marriage-equality pronouncement will be ill-accepted by his large African-American base of supporters, Davis said he thinks the community will stand by and evolve with the president.
“I don’t think that the African-American community is necessarily against gay marriage, I think the community is just becoming more conscious of the fact that this is discrimination. The president has made this a conversation piece,” Davis said. “People are now saying, ‘I have someone that I look up to, who I idolize, and this is what he believes, so I may need to evaluate my own values.’ I think the president has started the ball rolling on that process and we now have organizations like NAACP saying the same thing, that this is about equality. The president put the mirror up against everyone, not just the black community.”
As LGBT Americans for Obama rolls out over the next few months, Davis said he will work to show all voters the value of a second Obama term.
“I want to add my voice in as many places as possible and to as many people who can hear me,” he said. “I want people to understand that’s it not just about gay rights; the president has been for equality for years, with speaking out against DOMA and with the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ but he’s also done so many things to show he’s for all people, not just fat cats on Wall Street, but everyone. I want to use my voice to help make sure he gets another term for all of us.”
For more information on the campaign, visit www.BarackObama.com/LGBT.
Jen Colletta can be reached at email@example.com.