Connect with us


Sean James: From NFL running back to elite model

Career transition opened my world to new people, ideas



Sean James, gay news, Washington Blade


Sean James, gay news, Washington Blade

Sean James (Photo courtesy of Sean James)

So what makes a small town boy turned professional athlete who has spent the first 20 odd years of his life steeped in football culture ready to enter the New York fashion and modeling scene? Absolutely nothing!

Being in a country as large as ours can still be very isolating. Outside the big city streets are many small towns where diversity is still not a norm. Unfortunately from big cities like New York where we have a little bit of everything (and I do mean everything), to the small farm towns of Middle America, prejudice still exists. Much of it however, is rooted in ignorance. People are afraid of what they do not know, and what they do not understand.


Moreover, others are so unaware of their own ignorance that their prejudice is truly unintentional. Growing up in a small town in Kansas, even I fell victim to my ignorance.  It was not until I moved to New York that I knowingly had any contact with a many minorities. Jewish people and gays (who now comprise a large portion of my peers) were completely foreign to me. Not only had I never met any, but I didn’t know anything about them either. That disassociation made it easy for me to throw around words like “faggot” with my friends.

I wasn’t intentionally making an anti-gay remark, in my mind I was simply calling out an insult to a friend or teammate no different than calling him an idiot. I never stopped to think about what the word “faggot” actually meant, or why it was used derogatorily. There was no one in my circle of peers or adults to guide me, talk to me, or educate me about what lay outside the borders of our town and our own experiences. By remaining ignorant about the diverse groups that comprise our nation, I was guilty, as are so many others of allowing myself to remain prejudiced.

Becoming a professional athlete was my end goal for as long as I could remember, and it was something that I strived to achieve through hard work and discipline for the majority of my life. Becoming a Ford model for one of the top agencies in the world on the other hand, kind of fell into my lap when I moved to New York. I had no experience with the modeling world, and no knowledge of how it worked or whom I would encounter. Spending time in the fashion world of New York introduced me to a world of new people, including photographers, designers and stylists, not to mention other models. Suddenly, I was immersed in a game that had new rules and new players.

In the NFL, the players were predictable (at least off the field), and so were the rules.  It was a game of strength, machismo and competition. Every player knew their role in a locker room as much as they knew their role in a game. Be tough, talk shit, joke around — but get shit done. Some of that joking around came at the expense of the LGBT community. It didn’t occur to us that we were being offensive, let alone that there may have been a gay man on our team, in that locker room with us, or worse yet, laughing at those jokes out of fear.  That was my conditioning, my everyday. Then I became a Ford model, and let’s just say the locker room looked very different. I was the minority in almost every sense of the word. I was a minority as a black man, I was a minority as a muscular man with an 18-inch neck, and I was a minority as a straight man.

Everything that made me one of the boys in football now made me an outsider. So I had a choice: I could stride into this new world as the same running back who strode into stadiums, or I could do what my daddy taught me and put my head down, stay in my lane and listen. I chose to do the latter.  I listened and I watched. I paid attention to how people spoke, how they interacted with each other. I also began to see how gay men responded to me, especially the gay men who were in a position to advance my career.

I am not suggesting that every gay man in the industry hit on me, or that every gay agent, designer, etc. had a casting couch. What I am saying, however, is that there were some, and that was a reality that I had never seen before, and one to which I had to quickly acclimate. The more people I met, the more I gained a window into the gay world, and as my window widened, the stereotypes I had grown up listening to began to break down. The most significant example of this for me was the introduction I was given to the New York Times best-selling author, and my friend, E. Lynn Harris.

I was introduced to E. Lynn through Lloyd Boston who thought I’d be the perfect choice for one of E. Lynn’s book covers. The result of that introduction was much more than a booking, it was the beginning of one of the closest and most significant friendships of my life.  From the time I met him until his death, E. Lynn taught me many valuable lessons. As a gay man himself, E. Lynn shattered whatever stereotypes of gay men that I may have had lingering from my adolescence. From the way he lived his life, to the way he spoke to me, to the way he crafted his novels, E. Lynn turned the “typical” idea of a gay man on its head.

He explained to me the way he grew up in the South and how he was taught that being gay was a choice and was wrong, and how that mentality led him to perceive himself as a sinner. He explained that he was in the closet through high school, but becoming a writer freed him and allowed him to be himself. Being himself meant many things to E. Lynn. It meant being a huge football fan, being the first black male cheerleader at the University of Arkansas, being masculine and liking men who were masculine too (“If I liked girls, I’d fuck girls”, he would always say).  It meant being a best-selling author who could engage and captivate readers whether they were male or female, gay or straight.

Still in all, for E. Lynn being himself also meant that even though he was “out”, he was still afraid of being perceived as a queen. This was a sentiment that was surprisingly easy for me to understand. As a professional athlete, I was always well aware of the perceptions people had of me. I was always conscience of avoiding the “dumb jock” presumption when meeting new people. The fear of how others would perceive me had absolutely no baring on the pride I took in being an athlete, just as E. Lynn’s fears had no bearing in the pride that he took in being gay. However, our pride was never able to mask the realities we knew existed all around us.

Looking back at my experiences both as an NFL player and a Ford model, I see how impactful perceptions can be, but more importantly how inaccurate perceptions can affect a person or a group of people. Over the past 50 years, this country has made great strides toward breaking down the stereotypes and negative perceptions many of us held about various minority groups. President Barack Obama serves as a testament to those strides.  Progress, however, does not exist in a vacuum, and the dream of equality has expanded to meet the ever-changing portrait of the American people. During the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans fought for their constitutional rights. The assertion that the color of skin with which you were born does not change your rights as a citizen of this nation stood at the foundation of that fight.

Today, sexual orientation, just like skin color, is something of which to be proud, and yet, something in which you have no hand. I am grateful that I was able to encounter strong, incredible individuals along my journey from professional athlete, to model, to the business man I am today that were able to positively mold my perception of the gay community.  This is why I continue to support the LGBT community and those who are working to afford it the rights and perceptions that it deserves.

Sean James is a sports agent, Ford model and former running back for the Minnesota Vikings. Reach him via

Continue Reading


Underfunded, undermined and unabashedly victorious in Brazil

Country’s LGBTQ politicians are bringing diversity to democracy



Brazilian Congresswoman-electErika Hilton (Photo courtesy of Erika Hilton's Twitter page)

Imagine a group of 18 winners where you’ll find only one white man. The recent election in Brazil not only brought back former President Lula, but also doubled the numbers of out LGBT+ representatives in both the national and state legislatures. Out of these 18 elected officials; 16 are women, 14 are black and five are trans. There is only one white man in the group.

Women, LGBT+ and Black people have always showcased political leadership in their communities. But the path to occupy a space in Brazilian institutional politics is often violent and expensive. In recent years, many organized social movements have directed their efforts to set the agenda for public debate into the intersectional realm and support community leaders. In a poll VoteLGBT conducted in 2017 during the São Paulo Pride parade, the biggest in the world, only 45 percent of Pride participants surveyed thought that identity matters when choosing a candidate. In 2022, 85 percent believed so.

Despite the many obstacles and violence they face, Brazilian LGBT+ leaders are gaining political power, often being the most voted individuals in their states or cities. Many trans women who won big in their cities in 2020 advanced to higher positions in 2022. Four LGBT+ people (all women) were elected to congress: Three of them Black and two of them trans, a major breakthrough for LGBT+ political participation.

In Brazil, campaigns are publicly funded. Taxpayers’ money goes to parties’ leadership who can pretty much do whatever they want with it. There are rules made to fight the underrepresentation of women and Black population, but they are often corrupted by fraud.

Party leaders are often older rich white cis men who focus their efforts and financial support to old allies. LGBT+ politicians receive an average of 6 percent of the legal limit for what parties can provide to a single candidate. When interviewing 30 of those who ran in 2020, we came across three trans women who didn’t have enough to eat during their campaigns and still won their seats. Our vote is the cheapest in the election market.

Once elected, LGBT+ officials often face discrimination from their peers in the chambers, many times from their own parties. In a poll we did in 2021 we found that more than half of LGBT party members reported facing discrimination. And those who decided to report it found that there’s no accountability for LGBTphobia inside the parties.

Not to mention the constant death threats that (especially) Black and (especially) trans women face when elected or running for office. City Counselor Benny Brioly, who is Black and trans, had to flee the country in 2020 after public security forces refused to offer her protection, which was her legal right. In 2022 she kept getting death threats from a congressman, from his official Cabinet’s email. Erika Hilton and Duda Salabert, the first trans women elected for congress in 2022, had to conduct campaign activities with armed security and bulletproof vests.

It seems like the world is looking for the tools we are developing to fight extremism and LGBTphobia. International organizations have long supported many of those initiatives. The partnership and support from organizations like the National Democratic Institute and the LGBT Victory Institute have been fundamental to promote a comprehensive approach to such a complex issue.

VoteLGBT’s innovative research strategies have a political and historical importance due to the lack of official data about the LGBT+ population in Brazil. Research has been fundamental for us, not only to give visibility to our issues and set the agenda for public debate, but also to better strategize where to allocate resources. Since 2021 we have been investigating the parties, conducting in-depth interviews with candidates and LGBT caucus. We’ve produced a list of 327 out LGBT candidates in the 2022 election cycle with their racial and LGBT+ identity self declared. That had never been done before.

We’ve offered direct support through organizing a series of webinars, creating downloadable toolkits, conducting pressure campaigns on parties, lobbying the Supreme Electoral Court for them to produce official data on our leadership, creating a gallery with over 300 LGBT+ candidates and their priorities, and offering confidential psychological support, especially after such a violent campaign.

It would be dishonest, though, to claim any part of such astounding victories. Each of those candidates struggled to run their underfinanced and understaffed campaign, and still created strategies to reach and amplify their audience brilliantly. Also, we are not the only ones on the task. There are other organizations who are great examples and partners.

Brazil’s recent election results show us that an intersectional approach to the issue of political representation is not only possible, but potent. LGBT+ candidates earned over 3.5 million votes. Of those votes, a third went to trans women. Seven in 10 went to a Black candidate. Brazilian voters are showing us what kind of democracy they are willing to fight for. Without diversity there is no democracy.

Continue Reading


‘Queer’ evolves from hateful epithet to expression of pride

NYT criticizes HRC’s Robinson for use of term



It hit me one morning this fall as I woke up: I’ve turned 70.

As I’ve been celebrating this milestone, I’ve marveled at the changes that have occurred for our LGBTQ community during my lifetime.

Marriage equality, Pete Buttigieg (or any LGBTQ person) running for president and/or the fab queer rom-com “Bros” would have been unimaginable when I began coming out 50 years ago.

Then, just three years after the Stonewall uprising, I and many other LGBTQ folk felt far more shame than pride about our queerness.

Most of us in that era wouldn’t have dreamed that, decades later, not only LGBTQ teens, but queer people our age would have marched, out and proud, in Pride parades. We’d never have thought that in the 21st century any of us would ever proudly say, shout or chant “we’re queer!”

Nothing is more emblematic to me of the progress made in LGBTQ rights from Stonewall to today than the evolution of the word “queer” from a hateful epithet to an expression of pride.

Today, the term “queer” can be found everywhere from news outlets (including NPR, the Blade, the New York Times and the Washington Post) to museum exhibits such as “Queering the Crip, Cripping the Queer” at the Schwules Museum Berlin through the end of January and “Queer Creativity Through the Ages: Artwork from the Center on Colfax Open Art Studio” at the Denver Art Museum through Dec. 31.

I can’t think of any of my under 60 friends, hetero or LGBTQ who don’t use the word “queer.” Sometimes they’re proudly writing it on Pride parade signs. Often, they use it as a neutral adjective. The way you’d say “they’re from Boston” or “he’s about six-feet tall.”

Many of my over-60 pals are beginning to use the word “queer.” If they’re not comfortable using it about themselves, they’re increasingly comfortable with others using it. My 70-something hetero cousins, who are LGBTQ allies, no longer feel I’m putting myself down when I say I’m queer.

Given that “queer” is so often used as an affirmation of identity or neutral descriptor, I was surprised when New York Times columnist Pamela Paul recently lamented the popularity of the “q-word.”

I’m an avid reader of Paul’s column. Paul, a former editor of the New York Times Book Review, is, like many writers, obsessed about language. She’s an astute observer of the culture and of how we use words.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder what Paul was thinking. “Language is always changing – but it shouldn’t become inflexible,” she wrote, “especially when new terminologies, in the name of inclusion, sometimes wind up making others feel excluded.”

Paul, who is hetero, worried that the widespread use of “queer” excludes LGBTQ people who don’t identify as queer. She was upset that so many Gen-Zers identify as queer, and annoyed that “gays and lesbians can feel crowded out” under the LGBTQ umbrella.

Paul chided new Human Rights Campaign president Kelley Robinson for using the word “queer,” and not saying the words “gay,” “lesbian” or “bisexual” in a video where she introduced herself.

People at HRC do say “gay,” “lesbian” “bisexual” “transgender” and “nonbinary,” Robinson wrote in response to Paul’s column in a letter to the Times.

“I identify as a Black queer woman,” Robinson wrote, “and when I say ‘queer,’ it’s to be as inclusive as possible, to re-center those at the margins, to embrace our differences and to embrace our power, too.”

Robinson nailed what attracts so many of us to the word “queer.”

Of course, many LGBTQ boomers and Gen-Xers vividly recall when “queer” was a homophobic slur.

A hetero friend remembers when she was seven riding on a school bus. “I was mad at a kid,” she told me, “I wanted to call him something mean. So I said he was ‘queer.’”

“My sister told me not to say that again,” my pal added, “She said it was too horrible to tell me what it meant.”

But in recent decades (starting with AIDS activists), we’ve reclaimed the word “queer.” We’ve taken away its sting: transformed it from a hate-mongering, othering slur to a source of power.
It’s hard to think of a more inclusive word than queer. It includes and values all LGBTQ folk. In the wake of the Colorado Springs LGBTQ club shooting, it’s more important than ever to be proudly queer.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

Continue Reading


As a gay Jewish man, I will never let Trump win

My parents escaped Hitler for an America that we must save



Former President Donald Trump (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Donald Trump and his friends are scary, but I will not sit back and let them win. My parents escaped Hitler, coming to the United States for a better life. My father’s parents were killed in Auschwitz. Until Trump became president, I never believed anything like that could happen here. While I still don’t, I now know it will take everyone speaking out and not acquiescing to him and his acolytes. 

It is not only Jews and the LGBTQ community who are threatened. In the United States today all minorities and women are coming under fire. Our response must be not to only speak out, refuting hate every day, but working to see it doesn’t continue to threaten our lives. We must vote to ensure those who threaten our way of life never gain control.

Trump is a sexist, homophobic, racist pig. For four years he held a megaphone as president spreading hatred and enabling his followers to spread theirs in the public square. He capped four years with an attempted coup. He was stopped, but today he is trying to once again regain that megaphone. We cannot let him or anyone who supports him have it.

We must call out Trump and every one of his acolytes every time they do something like sit down to dinner with anti-Semites like Kanye West and his friend Nick Fuentes. Fuentes, a white supremacist and Holocaust denier, is a political commentator and live streamer banned from YouTube for his views. We cannot accept any excuses for such behavior. We must also call out those with the power to reach people like that, who don’t speak out. Those like Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. They are Jews, bringing their children up in the Jewish faith. Where are their voices? They must realize they and their children will not be spared if the likes of West and Fuentes take over our country. 

There needs to be the outcry like there was when West first iterated his diatribe against the Jews forcing Adidas and others to cut their business ties with him. 

Today we see movies and plays opening that speak to the horrors of racism and anti-Semitism. Movies like “Till,” about racism, and “Fabelmans,” the Steven Spielberg autobiographical movie about him facing anti-Semitism and bullying and the new Tom Stoppard play on Broadway, “Leopoldstadt.” Every day, and in every way, decent Americans must speak out and fight back; not with guns but with words, actions, and votes. 

We are seeing gun violence climb in the United States, often based on hate. We shouldn’t be surprised with the easy access to guns, nearly 440 million in the hands of Americans, when someone’s hatred results in violent attacks on churches, synagogues, schools, movie theaters, or just on the streets in our neighborhoods. We see anger much too easily escalate into violence.

Again, whereas sexism, racism, homophobia are not new to American society, we worked for many years, and until Trump, managed to keep them somewhat under control. It was getting to a point where they were not acceptable to be spoken in the public square. Trump changed that. While we can fight the policies he proposed, like lowering taxes on the rich, or refusing to recognize climate change, the cultural changes he wrought will take decades to change. Putting the genie of hate back in the bottle will not be easy as we see in our country today.  From his announcement for president to his comments on Charlottesville, where he said he could see good on both sides; one side being white supremacists and neo-Nazis, the other being those who opposed them, he allowed hatred to become acceptable. 

Today we have not only Trump but the mini-Trumps who want to take over from him like Ron DeSantis in Florida and Glenn Youngkin in Virginia — those who cover their disgusting thoughts in a more acceptable public veneer, but who nonetheless end up working to advance the same goals as Trump, namely to marginalize every minority and allow them to be continuously threatened into submission. 

But they will learn we will not be threatened without a response. We will not sit idly by while they ruin the country my parents, and so many others, came to seeking asylum and safety. We will fight for the country whose Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We will continue to fight to include women in those beautiful words.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

Continue Reading

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast


Follow Us @washblade