Family Portraits: Dwight Anthony Bailey

Batter up! It’s time for the eighth annual Gay Community Night at the Phillies, a night for us to show our pride and have an excuse to eat hot dogs and chili and wear beer cans strapped to our heads, no questions asked.

Fun that it is, the event is also a fundraiser for the Sean Halpin Scholarship Fund. Halpin was an openly gay activist and attorney who served on the boards of a number of local LGBT organizations. He was also an avid baseball fan. A $1,000 scholarship is given in his name each year to an openly LGBT law student in the Philadelphia area. We took time this week to speak to last year’s recipient, Dwight Anthony Bailey.

PGN: You have quite a résumé already: Villanova Law National Trial Team member, president of the Black Law Students Association, student board member of the Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia, lieutenant governor of American Bar Association Representatives, Law Student Division. You’ve worked in the District Attorney’s office, have a bachelor’s in political science from Temple, studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and you’re currently enrolled at Villanova University School of Law. What does the Halpin Scholarship mean to you? DAB: Well, it means I’ll have $1,000 less to pay in student loans! But most of all, I’m honored to represent Sean as someone who gave back to the community. I believe that we create the world around us, and it’s great to have a party, but it’s important to remember that not everyone has the same access to cake and balloons and the things you might have. It’s hard to really enjoy your party knowing that others are not so lucky, so it’s important to give back in a way to help everyone have a decent life, whether that’s through pro-bono work, setting up a scholarship or volunteering. I look forward to the time when I can start the Dwight Bailey Scholarship Fund. Not memorial, I hope …

PGN: Tell me about yourself. DAB: I’m Philadelphia born and bred. I lived in West Philadelphia until I turned 10, when we moved to Yeadon. It’s in Delaware County, but it was literally only three blocks from the edge of Philly to my house. I went to Masterman for middle and high school. Then to Drexel, then a brief stop at Community, then Temple and, as you said, I’m currently at Villanova Law.

PGN: What’s the family dynamic? DAB: I’m the only child of a single mom. She had me when she was really young and, while I’m an only child, from the age of 10 until I went to college, I was raised with my cousin, Shaun, who is about three-and-three-quarter-years younger than me. We were like brothers, [with] silly arguments over the car and daily fights.

PGN: I still have hair-pulling arguments with my brother over who gets to sit in the front seat when we visit my mother. DAB: I always wanted the back seat, so it wasn’t a problem!

PGN: What did you do for fun? DAB: What we did as kids in the ’90s: hung out at the Gallery Mall and around the shops up at 60th Street.

PGN: What was your favorite book as a kid? DAB: “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss. I loved that book.

PGN: Fun activity? DAB: Shaun and I played video games 24/7. We were just saying how talented we might have been at some particular trade or skill if we hadn’t spent half our lives playing video games! If we’d used that time to learn how to play the piano or learning Shakespeare … But no, we concentrated all our time learning Super Mario Brothers and Street Fighter.

PGN: “Star Wars” or “Star Trek”? DAB: “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

PGN: You studied in France at the Sorbonne: What was the gay scene like there? DAB: I did a lot of the more-touristy stuff like the Moulin Rouge and a gay club that was right near it. I met some people who showed me around and let me hang out with them. Contrary to popular opinion, everyone was very nice to me and they liked Americans. I got to go on a few gay boat rides and private parties with some of the people I met and I had a great time, but I didn’t get to hit too many clubs.

PGN: Do you still speak French? DAB: I’ve lost a lot of it, but if I have a glass of wine, I get more fluent!

PGN: What did you want to be when you grew up? DAB: Well, I think I had a bit of ADD, so I wanted to be a singing-dancing-actor-lawyer-doctor-astronaut. As the years have gone by, I’ve been able to check some of them off the list and have been successful at some of them. I’m still not an astronaut and still hoping to get that Ph.D. at some point.

PGN: Acting and dancing? DAB: For acting, I was on a few of those low-budget after-school specials that they show to kids to prevent them from gambling or committing suicide. I also did a few plays in church. As far as the dancing goes, I used to dance on an MTV show called “Direct Effect.” I’d take the train up to New York and I was part of the regular cast of dancers. It came on after [“Total Request Live”] and they’d take all the kids to a different studio and we’d do a kind of “Soul Train” line and dance. It was fun; I got to be on national TV. You know, I’m an old man, so we’re talking years ago, maybe 2000, 2001, something like that.

PGN: You did not just reference 2001 as the olden days with a straight face! Don’t make me smack you. DAB: [Laughs.] On the cool meter! It was a long time ago on the cool meter.

PGN: [Laughs.] You’re making it worse! I’ll turn this interview around right now young man. DAB: I’m sorry!

PGN: So tell me about your after-school specials. What was the craziest one? DAB: In the first one I did, I played a gun-toting street tough. I gambled with these high-school kids and, when they didn’t have the money to pay up, there was a scene where I stalked them at school, toting my gun and lurking around the school. We filmed it at an actual school and one of the real community police officers saw me peaking in the windows looking like a hood and pulled up. We had to quickly reassure him that we were doing a film and authorized to be there!

PGN: I can’t imagine you as a thug: You giggle, for heaven’s sake. DAB: Yes, well … [Giggles.] That was what was so funny about the whole thing! Every once in a while, when I have friends over, we’ll watch it and have a good laugh. But I guess I’m a good actor. While I’m not exactly a thug, I grew up around enough of them to know how to imitate the behavior.

PGN: And what singing have you done? DAB: I’m waiting until I get engaged and then I’ll take singing lessons so I can sing to my husband at the reception.

PGN: You did some teaching. What was that like, and what was the funniest thing you faced? DAB: I did a little stint with the Children’s Defense Fund teaching fourth-graders. We taught reading to inner-city youth attending low-budget schools. These kids were great but they asked every inappropriate question you could imagine, from “Do you have a girlfriend?” to “How big is your chest?”

PGN: How big is your chest? DAB: Yes, some girl apparently had a crush on me and, when I asked her why she was asking about my chest, she said, “Because I told my sister about you and she wanted to know if you had a chest.” I guess she said something flattering to peak the sister’s interest. At the time, I didn’t have a chest, so it was embarrassing that she had to ask! I just laughed it off. But you never knew what they were going to ask.

PGN: Any hobbies outside of law stuff? DAB: I’ve become a huge fan of the gym and am proud to say I do have a chest now. Yeah! I also do some running, not marathon-worthy, but a few miles at a time. Just enough to burn off the piece of cake from the night before. I’ve also gotten into indoor-rock climbing. I like it because you use your brain and body at the same time. When you’re up there, you really have to think quickly and challenge yourself. I’ve also been very intimate with my DVR this week. I love being able to catch up on favorite shows. Apart from that, I don’t have time for much else outside of school and work.

PGN: What are two favorite shows? DAB: “True Blood.” I always watch that, and I love “Top Chef.” And when it’s not in reruns, I love “America’s Next Top Model.” I gotta see what Tyra’s gonna say!

PGN: Now that the show is in reruns, what are you doing these days? DAB: I’m working this summer on an internship with the Philadelphia Defender Association. I lucked out and got a job working with a new program called “Video Crash Court,” where they are trying to get people who are in jail for low-level crimes, like being caught with a small amount of marijuana or shoplifting, to have their day in court as fast as possible instead of taking up a cell for four months just waiting to go to trial. Instead of transporting them to court, which means a lot of work and manpower, with having to process them in and out from jail to court and back, armed guards, etc., we can essentially set up courtroom via video conference, where they can see the judge and lawyers and vice versa and do it that way. Most of these people have jobs and are otherwise taxpaying citizens, not usually a menace to society, but if they can’t make bail, there’s a good possibility they might lose their jobs sitting in a cell for months waiting for a trial. It’s a great program and, since I’ve been in it since the beginning, I get to have a lot of input.

PGN: Last year you worked for the District Attorney’s office. What did you learn there? DAB: It was intense. One of my favorite shows is “Law and Order: SVU.” I don’t watch any of the other versions, just that one. I’ve always been fascinated with the subject matter. Last summer, I worked in the family violence/sex crimes unit of the District Attorney’s office. I did a lot of interviews with victims relating their stories and it was pretty sad.

PGN: What was the most surprising? DAB: I was astounded at the number of children who are molested on a regular basis in this city. It was eye-opening. It really showed the importance of protecting children and being really careful of whom you trust.

PGN: It seems there’s such a fear of “stranger danger” but, from what I gather, the real danger is people you know. DAB: Yeah, most of the parents had the best of intentions, but just trusted the wrong people. We really need to be careful who we bring into our children’s worlds.

PGN: What do you think makes you a good lawyer? DAB: I think that I’m a person who is always on task. I’m good at focusing on something and sticking with it. It’s funny: I get comments at work for being too serious, too intense. And I’m like, “Um, I’m at work. Aren’t we supposed to be serious? We’re dealing with people’s liberty here, I should be taking it seriously.” Away from work, I’m happy-go-lucky, but I buckle down when it’s important. I’m also very passionate about what I do. I love it. I really took the advice “do what you love” and found something that I’m crazy about. I even enjoy all the grunt work because it’s all a part of the process. I can’t wait to be in court arguing a case, giving summations in front of a judge and jury. I think I read people really well and have a good understanding of them, which is important for a lawyer.

PGN: I would think your acting skills would help. DAB: Oh, definitely! Sometimes you have to deliver a message several times in different ways depending on who you’re giving it to. You present to a judge differently than you would present to a jury. When delivering a case, you want people to see your case as you want them to and the ability to dramatize certainly helps. The whole thing is very theatrical, from the layout of the courtroom with the judge sitting high above to the defendant entering the spectator gallery.

PGN: Very Shakespearian. DAB: Oh yes, it can be a stage. That’s part of what I enjoy about it. I get to put on a nice costume, read my lines and help people. It’s the best of many worlds.

To suggest a community member for “Family Portraits,” write to: Family Portraits, 505 S. Fourth St., Philadelphia, PA 19147 or [email protected].