Liam Dacy: On the move in PA

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Liam Dacy

2020 has been a crazy year to say the least, but I have hope that November 3rd, or more likely some time at the end of the month before all is said and done, things will drastically turn around. Another person hoping for change and working for it is Liam Dacy. Dacy has held leadership positions with high-profile organizations, including Hillary For America, the Democratic National Convention Committee, FEMA, Provincetown International Film Festival, NewFest, Nantucket Film Festival, and Showtime Networks. He recently left a full time job with Lambda Legal in New York to join the Biden campaign and is now in Philadelphia working to make sure Pennsylvania goes back to blue this time around. We spoke to him late at night after a 13-hour day working to get out the vote. 

Where do you hail from?

I’m from Cape Cod up in Massachusetts. It’s funny, people always want to equate Boston and Philadelphia and sure, they share a lot of similarities, but I find Philadelphia has always had more of an open community than I found up in Massachusetts. Philadelphia has always accepted me and nourished me. It was an easy city to break into and feel comfortable. I feel like Philadelphia is more open to welcome new things and new ideas here. 

Where in the Cape did you grow up?

I’m from Centerville, which is one of the seven villages in the town of Barnstable, Massachusetts. I didn’t have a particularly interesting childhood. I went to Cape Cod Academy, which was a preppy school for grades Kindergarten through 12th. I graduated in the class of 2000 and there wasn’t a single out student in my class, including me. 

When did you come out?

I didn’t come out until I was a sophomore in college, which was interesting considering where I went.

Do tell.

Well, my father and grandfather both went to Notre Dame so that’s where I went too. But I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into! In my sophomore year, I started thinking, “Hmm, maybe I am gay” and decided to come out. Soon after that I decided that Notre Dame wasn’t the place for me. I started going through the transfer process to go to Wesleyan and one of my professors came and talked to me. I was a film major and one of my film production professors was like, “You know Liam, when it comes to gay issues, Wesleyan does not need your help, we need openly gay people here at Notre Dame.” So I made the decision to stay and soon after I’d started networking with an LGBTQ alumni group, the Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae of Notre Dame/Saint Mary’s (GALA-ND/SMC). They weren’t officially affiliated with the university, but they were a big help and I’m actually on the board of the group now. At the time they approached me and the chair invited me out to coffee. I told him that since I was a film major and they had financial resources that could help, we should do an LGBT film festival. And that’s what we did!

That’s fabulous, I’m the Director of Programming for The Women’s Film Festival here in Philly and I also program women’s films for qFLIX, so I know the importance of festivals. They’re a way of sharing our stories with each other and the public in general. 

Yes, and that’s what we did. In 2004 we held the first-ever Notre Dame Queer Film Festival. It was really cool, we had John Cameron Mitchell who was the writer, director, and star of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” and we screened the film. We also had Don Roos who wrote and directed “The Opposite of Sex.” He’s actually a Notre Dame alum so he came back for the film festival. It was pretty cool; we were on the front page of the Chicago Tribune, Fox News did a live feed from campus, and we got a lot of attention. It was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life. 

Nothing like a good film festival. I can’t wait to be able to start back up in person. 

Yeah, I went on to work on several others. So I’m guessing you know Thom Cardwell? 

Oh for sure, he got me involved with the festival back when it was PIGLIFF, the Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, then it became Qfest and now qFLIX. 

Nice, so yeah, that first one was a cool experience. Groundbreaking at the time. 

Did you get any negative pushback?

Oh yeah, I got death threats. So there was that, but I wasn’t really concerned about it. I was just glad that I decided to stay at Notre Dame and was able to do something that made a difference and got people’s attention. 

I’m glad.

Well hey, I’m a white cis-gendered male, which comes with a lot of privilege. Back around 2003, being openly gay at Notre Dame was a much bigger deal than it is now. So back then, to be openly LGBT would have been difficult for a person of color, or a woman, or a trans person, or a lot of other folks. It was a lot easier for someone like me to advocate for LGBT issues, so I felt like I had that responsibility. I can’t imagine what other people might have gone through, I was lucky in that I had the safety and support of my family so I felt it was my duty to step up. 

Do you know who Barbara Gittings is?

Yes, very well actually. 

I remember a quote from her when someone once asked her why she did the activism that she did and her response was similar. She simply said, “because I could” and went on to say that at the time, a lot of people weren’t safe coming out, but because of her safety at work and other factors, she was able to be openly gay when others weren’t safe to do so, so she felt it was her obligation. How did you meet her?

We had Barbara Gittings as a guest at Notre Dame for our film festival. It was in the following year, 2005, Barbara had just undergone chemotherapy and there was a snowstorm but she was amazing. 

She was indeed. 

We screened the film “Gay Pioneers” which featured Barbara and was produced by Malcolm Lazin. I met Malcolm when we screened Jim in Bold, a documentary about the life and untimely death of Jim Wheeler, a gay teenager who committed suicide. I’m still in touch with him. He offered me work with Equality Forum so I moved to Philly in 2005 to help with operations for the forum’s National Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the LGBT Civil Rights Movement. I was fresh out of school but because some of the folks who I was working for were having health issues I ended up taking on a much bigger role with greater responsibilities that originally planned. I ended up running the Cyndi Lauper concert that happened at Penn’s Landing. 

I was there! That was great. 

Yeah, it was a big event, the singer Amber who had the hit, “This Is Your Night” opened up and we had Philadelphia’s Jade Starling of “Catch Me I’m Falling” fame and a whole lot of other things going on. There was a line going down the street for people to attend. It was amazing, and we pulled it off without a hitch. I have to say, I moved to Philly without knowing anybody and this town welcomed me with open arms. In just the first five months, I met so many people who helped me and had my back getting the concert off the ground. It’s the true Philadelphia story, people here really do help each other, people in Philly are real people and aren’t afraid to talk to you or reach out and help you. I’m living in New York now, but Philly kind of feels like my home. It’s what got me started and now I’m back here working on the Biden campaign.

I do love this town. But before we get into the Biden work, tell me something fun about working with Cyndi. 

She had a rider to have caviar there for her and at the end of the concert, she said, “You know what? I don’t need caviar, I just want a cheese pizza!” So we ordered cheese pizzas and she invited everyone backstage to have some. She shared it with the entire staff which was pretty cool. 

Good story. What did you do after that?

I worked for Equality Forum for two years. I did the Taylor Dayne concert the next year and I also worked in promotions at a few local radio stations, which was great because it let me interact with a lot of nonprofits in the city. When we did LGBTQ events, I’d make sure that we had on-air personalities from the station along with the promotional materials we gave out, folks like Pierre Robert from WMMR and John DeBella. It was fun. 

So you were Deputy Director of Convention Center Operations at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, I was there too. What were some of the highlights and challenges for you?

So everything that happened inside the PA Convention Center was under my domain. The biggest challenge was probably a protest that happened during the DNC rules committee meeting. I had people in the lobby throwing things at my head because they wanted to come in but we were at the fire code capacity and it was hard to communicate that it was not our decision to try to keep people out, it was a violation of health and safety regulations. I didn’t have any ideological objections, it was simply a matter of the capacity rules and regulations, but a lot of folks didn’t want to hear that. On the plus side, I think we did a good job of integrating people from all sides and making sure delegates for Bernie Sanders and other representatives were heard. We arranged two press conferences for Bernie Sanders, and he was able to really push the party platform to the left of what it might have been. One thing I’ll never forget is that they did 3 or 4 staff bonding parties prior to the event. They budgeted money for us to get to know each other and I think it really made a difference in what were intense circumstances. If you remember, the head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, had to step down right before the convention. We had to deal with protestors and press and everyone wanting to get in. And our staff worked flawlessly. Sadly, we didn’t win the election, but I think we won that convention. 

What is your role with the Biden Campaign?

So this summer I was at the convention in Milwaukee. I was on the Covid-19 preparedness team. We were the ones who instituted all the PPE and testing protocols. I was in Milwaukee all summer and got tested every day for a month before and during the convention. Anyone who stepped into the convention center was tested and masks were mandatory. And I’m proud to say that we had a positivity rate of .08 percent. And those who tested positive never stepped foot into the convention. So what we did worked, which I think is a valuable lesson and a positive story. 

Imagine if we get a administration change and are able to apply what you did on a National level. 

Exactly, and my boss at the convention is now the senior advisor on Covid-19 preparedness for the Biden campaign so we’re in good hands. 

And what are you doing now?

I’m the deputy director of Get out the Vote here in Pa. Pennsylvania and Nevada are the first states where we are implementing in-person canvassing. As little as 3 weeks ago, there was no in-person campaigning being done, so this is a big change and we want to be sure to do it safely. The Trump campaign never stopped, they’ve just been like, whatever, but we’re taking steps to install guidelines and proper training. We want to respect the health and safety of everyone involved. So far it’s going well. 

What got you interested in politics?

Well, my first job as a kid was as a caddy at the Hyannis Port golf club, so I grew up near the Kennedys, and that influenced me. I’ve always volunteered for social justice causes, but Hillary Clinton’s campaign was the first political event I worked on. The loss was devastating, so I’m hoping that by working in PA, which is shaping up to be the most important state in the election, we can make up for it. 

We’d better! So with your work in politics and film festivals, you must get to meet a lot of people. Who are a few favorite encounters?

I saw Andrew Yang and Cory Booker last weekend. But I don’t know, John Cameron Mitchell was pretty special, he didn’t ask for money to come to our film festival, he just did it for the cause. I got to hang out with him all weekend and take him to the gay bars and he was just really nice and down to earth. I also had the chance to meet John Waters when I was 20. He’s a little intimidating but a really great person. The first time I met him he gave me his card and said, “Don’t ever lose this!” and of course I got drunk that night and lost it! Fortunately, I was able to meet him again. 

What historic politician would you have wanted to have cocktails with?

I had a chance to meet FDR’s grandson in 2016 at the convention. So FDR would be cool to meet, he was a part of such a pivotal moment in modern history. Maybe he’d have some insight into how to handle things today. 

So we only have a short amount of time before election day, and we need all hands on deck. How would you suggest people get involved?

People can go to www.mobilize.us and find out all sorts of information: where to find events, how to participate, and the various ways you can help, everything from phone banking to canvassing to putting up posters. There are all sorts of opportunities. This election is not just important for us, it has worldwide implications, and this is it, less than 14 days to go, so we need all the help we can get. And of course, make sure that you vote.