I spoke to Wade Davis a few weeks ago and, last column, I wrote about the work he has been doing with youth since retiring from football and coming out as gay. He works with LGBTQ youth who face challenges at home and at school and even on the streets, through sports programs and other initiatives.
Davis makes no bones about why he immerses himself in helping LGBTQ youth. Whether it’s about bullying, homophobia or sports inclusion, his passion stays strong.
One of the questions I asked him was why he was interested in speaking at the Philadelphia FIGHT gala Dec. 5 at the Union League. Some people become active or even activists because they or someone close to them is HIV-positive. In Davis’ case, his passion stems from the very base: his concern for every fellow human.
“I am coming to speak for my personal interest,” he said. “Very frankly, the reason I am as seemingly courageous as I am in the public space and feel so passionately about these issues is because of the young people I work with.
“At the Hetrick-Martin Institute in New York City, the young people there taught me what real courage was, every time I had a chance to work with the young people out there on the front lines, the ones who don’t have the same privileges that I do. There are youth who can say one minute, ‘Hey, I’m gay, Mom,’ and they can truly be homeless the next. To have the privilege to do anything to impact the lives of young people, show what is possible for them, is more dear to my heart than working with the NFL.”
So we talked about the high rates of new HIV cases among LGBTQ youth in many large urban areas and about some of the programs that try to address the growing number of young people infected and homeless. Davis uses the idea that celebrity and media often go hand-in-hand to get the word out. He said he feels many youth would be completely overlooked by society were it not for individual efforts and the efforts of the HIV and youth centers.
“We are all living with HIV,” he said. “Whether you are HIV-positive or negative, we are all still living with it. We all need to look at it from that framework. It is not someone else’s problem. It is not something that I will never have contact with. So I look at it as that, I am living with HIV even though I’m negative, but the people who do have it are my brothers and sisters. They are a part of our family and I can never honor them if I look at them that way, that it is someone else’s problem.”
Davis works to empower others in the fight and create conversations on the issue, especially that it affects certain demographics more, like those that FIGHT serves. It’s a reminder that this fight isn’t over and we have not ended the disease; just because it’s not in the media like it was in the 1980s and ’90s, there are still many people impacted by the disease.
And all of his work is interwoven: youth, HIV, homophobia in sports and bullying.
Davis met a girl of 16 at one of his events. She was planning on running away from home. When he asked her why, she told him it was because if she told her mom about her identity, she’d be out on the street anyway. When he asked how she knew that, she gave the standard answer that her mom is like everybody else.
“One of the biggest things I’m learning is that there are certain misconceptions, especially within the African-American community, about homophobia, that anyone who is black is homophobic,” said Davis. “It’s something young people believe, because they oftentimes don’t give their own family a chance.”
Nine months or more later, he said, he ran into this girl and she looked great. She told him everything was great and her mom said she knew anyway. The young girl had run away and lived on the streets when she didn’t have to because she believed the myth.
“We should stop using the phrase ‘at risk’ when we are talking about the youth who are facing challenges and instead say they are ‘at promise,’” Davis said. “Language and words are power and they become mapped onto the individual they refer to. If I continually call a young person ‘at risk,’ they start to believe that. Rephrase that. Let them know that they have promise. And it’s my responsibility as an adult who cares about a person, regardless of bloodlines, that you are our family. If you start to call them ‘at promise,’ then they start to believe it too and they start to reimagine the future for themselves.”
Wade Davis will be the featured speaker at the FIGHT for Life Gala Dec. 5 at the Union League. Tickets start at $125. Davis is also tentatively scheduled to play volleyball with a group of LGBTQ youth at 3 p.m. Dec. 4 at Lloyd Hall along Boathouse Row.
Stonewall Philly is starting dodgeball and volleyball leagues, with play beginning in January. Dodgeball will be Sunday afternoons at St. Paul’s Community Center, 1018 Wallace St., and volleyball games will be on Tuesday evenings at Parkway Center City High School, 13th and Spring Garden streets. Both are easily accessible from the Broad Street subway.
Details about cost, location and team size are at stonewallphilly.org and if you have any questions, email [email protected]. Registration runs through Dec. 10.
• If you have a trophy or plaque at the recently shuttered Westbury Bar and Restaurant, now is the time to contact Chuck Brault and make arrangements to pick it up.
• Sports and recreation information can be found on the inside back cover of PGN every fourth Friday of the month or any time on epgn.com.
Having a holiday party or fundraiser for your team or league? Email [email protected] for coverage.