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HBGC Honors NFL’s Wade Davis, Jr.

by Dan Meyer

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday November 23, 2012

On November 17, the Hispanic and Black Gay Coalition gathered in Somerville for their third annual cocktail reception celebrating the Black and Latino LGBT communities that fight to support an often-marginalized segment of the at-large community. Among those honored were Ugandan LGBT activist Frank Mugisha and out-gay former NFL player Wade Davis, Jr.

"What touched me most about this year's reception was the overwhelming amount of diversity in the room," said HBGC Executive Director Corey Yarbrough of the crowd, which was an even mix of white, black and Latino. "HBGC is truly fulfilling its vision of uniting Black and Latino/a communities, engaging passionate allies and incorporating the issues that impact us most into the mainstream LGBTQ movement."

The 2012 Audre Lorde Founder's Award was given to Wade Davis, Jr., who came out publicly after retiring from playing in the NFL for several teams including the Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks.

Upon accepting the award, Davis Jr. immediately challenged the audience to take action. Referring to his coming out, he said "I've done my part, make sure you're doing your part; don't leave without being organized."

Davis, Jr.'s speech was succinct, but not without any lasting effect. It was clear to many that his words had struck a chord in many who may have felt that the Latino and Black communities were becoming more divided than united.

He also thanked his partner, Steve, for his outstanding support through the struggles that have come with being an openly gay former NFL athlete.

"Wade Davis made the biggest splash this year as far as black celebrities coming out of the closet," said Yarbrough, telling EDGE that they chose to honor Davis because he works very hard to empower LGBT youth of color across the country and "that really resonated with us."

"After a very challenging year, it was inspiring to see that the community is still excited and invested in seeing HBGC spread its wings towards greatness," Yarbrough added.

When asked further about the challenges the organization has faced in the past year, Yarbrough cited the Trayvon Martin incident, along with leadership changes and growing pains from program expansion.

Ugandan Activist Speaks From Home

In addition to networking and enjoying refreshments, several speakers and award recipients discussed the need for youth empowerment, unity and personal struggles.

The James Earle Hardy Legend’s Award was given to Frank Mugisha, the Ugandan LGBT rights activist and founder of Icebreakers, a support group for LGBT people coming out of the closet in the notoriously homophobic African country.

Dixon called the man "fearless" and had accomplished much that was "no easy feat" in a place like Uganda.

Mugisha was unable to be in attendance for the event due to escalating problems in his country, but addressed the crowd via a pre-taped acceptance speech from his home.

After thanking HBGC for the award, he thanked the audience for giving him the visibility he needs to achieve equal rights.

"My high profile is my security," Mugisha said, hinting at the many LGBT rights activists who are assaulted and sometimes murdered in Uganda.

The work Mugisha does is part of an amazing battle, said Yarbrough.

"We take for granted that we can display ’homosexual acts’ such as holding our partner’s hand walking up and down the street," he added. "It’s important for us to realize that even though, in America, we have so much more to go for LGBT equality, there are still some people in other countries that are fighting for very basic rights."

In addition, Chris Amir Dixon, a board member of the HBGC and documentarian, spoke before Mugisha addressed the audience, commenting on the activist’s bravery in his willingness to go before the camera and speak out. Mugisha will appear in Dixon’s newest documentary, premiering Dec. 6.

Latinos Continue Moving Forward

As keynote speaker, Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants Executive Director Josiane Martinez highlighted the problems LGBT people face in Puerto Rico, Martinez’s home territory.

"I strive to be a voice for those who are not often heard," said Martinez, adding, "We are very lucky to live in a place like Massachusetts."

For the most part, however, Martinez did not lament the losses and struggle. Instead, she focused on empowerment and how far Latinos have come.

"Ricky Martin has been a great step in being open," Martinez explained, adding that she believes his coming out is one of the reasons she and her wife, Alejandra, were able to get married.

As she wrapped up her speech, Martinez said being a member of the Latino LGBT community "is our biggest challenge and our biggest opportunity. Do something about it." This will lead to a more unity LGBT community at-large and more respect for Latinos in America.

"We are energized more than ever to sustain our current programs while expanding opportunities to new communities and underrepresented populations within the Black and Latino/a LGBTQ community," said Yarbrough, looking forward to a bright future.

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Dan Meyer is a young professional whose stories have appeared in publications such as The Advocate online and UCLA's LGBT magazine entitled "OutWrite." He is also a part-time ESL teacher in Boston.