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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



Celebrating 15th anniversary of Harvey Milk Day

A powerful reminder that one person can make a difference



The Harvey Milk Forever Stamp was unveiled at a ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on May 22, 2014. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Harvey Milk’s birthday, May 22, is officially a Day of Special Significance in California. Other states also honor Milk.

Milk was the first openly gay man elected to public office in U.S. history. In 1977, he was elected to a seat on the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco. His term began in January 1978 and ended in November when disgruntled former Supervisor Dan White assassinated Milk and Mayor George Moscone at City Hall.

In his 1982 book “Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk,” Randy Shilts wrote a moving account of San Francisco’s 1978 memorial for Milk. A “massive crowd stretched the entire distance from City Hall to Castro Street, some 40,000 strong utterly silent,” Shilts wrote. The crowd “ostensibly memorialized both George Moscone and Harvey, but few speakers quarreled that the crowd had amassed chiefly to remember the gangly ward politician [Milk] who had once called himself the mayor of Castro Street.”

Shilts quoted Board of Supervisors President Dianne Feinstein, at the time acting mayor, telling the mourners that Milk “was a leader who represented your voices.” Another speaker said Milk “was to us what Dr. King was to his people. Harvey was a prophet [who] lived by a vision.” Equality was Milk’s vision.

Shilts presciently titled the last section in his book “The Legend Begins.” In 1979, after a jury gave assassin White a light seven-year sentence, LGBT rioters rocked San Francisco in what is called “The White Night Riots.” During the riots, Shilts wrote that “a lesbian university professor yelled into a feeble bullhorn: ‘Harvey Milk lives.’” Since 1978, Harvey Milk’s courageous leadership has been celebrated globally.

Over four years, 2006-2010, San Francisco reminded the country that Milk was a gay man worthy of great honors. The 2008 movie “Milk,” filmed partly in San Francisco, with Sean Penn as Milk, ignited greater public interest in the legendary gay activist. Gay screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and Penn won Academy Awards in 2009.

The film led Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign legislation making Milk’s birthday a Day of Special Significance. Also, President Barack Obama awarded Milk with a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom. On Milk’s 84th birthday, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative Forever stamp in his honor.

California’s Harvey Milk Day recognizes Milk for his contributions to the state. It also encourages public schools to conduct “suitable commemorative exercises” to honor Milk.

“To me, [Milk] was a man who was a capitalist, and an entrepreneur who happened to be gay,” said Republican Sen. Abel Maldonado, the only Republican to vote for the bill to create Harvey Milk Day.

The newer scholarship about Milk provided additional insight into his activism. “An Archive of Hope: Harvey Milk’s Speeches and Writings” edited by James Edward Black, Charles Morris, and Frank Robinson, published in 2013 by the Univ. of California Press, is an excellent example.

The book’s title is drawn from Milk’s 1978 speech called “The Hope Speech.” He spoke about people [gays, seniors, Black Americans, disabled, Latinos, Asians] “who’ve lost hope.” He proceeds to talk about inspiring hope in others who are struggling when the “pressures at home are too great.” It is a passionate speech, based largely on Milk’s conversations with people in the Castro. In a review of the book for The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, I wrote it is: “An important contribution to the corpus of work on Harvey Milk as a writer and orator.”

Milk believed that it was important for members of the LGBTQIA+ community to come out. If more people were aware of their LGBTQIA+ associates who were their friends, family, and loved ones, then discrimination would end. To Milk, coming out would lead to ensuring LGBTQIA+ civil rights.

In 2007, during Pride in San Francisco I worked at a nonprofit’s booth in Civic Center Plaza. A man stopped to talk. I mostly listened. He was a veterinarian from a small town in Arkansas. He was gay and closeted. He regularly visited San Francisco for Pride. Afterward, he regularly returned to his closeted life in Arkansas. I felt sorry for him. Though I was a stranger to him, he needed to come out to me. I was reminded of Milk’s wisdom about the freedom of coming out.    

Harvey Milk Day is for all people who need hope. Milk’s life is a lesson that one person can make a difference. A strong, united community inspired by Milk and others has changed and continues to change the world.  

Milk’s short political career led to long-term LGBTQIA+ political leadership from the Bay Area to Washington, D.C. to Miami to Seattle. To paraphrase a Woody Guthrie song: This LGBTQIA+ Land is Our Land. Happy Milk Day 2024!

James Patterson is a lifetime member of the American Foreign Service Association.

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Rosenstein: Vote McGuiness for Delaware’s 14th District

For responsible growth and continued improvements in Sussex County



I know Kathy McGuiness, and there is no one more qualified to replace Pete Schwartzkopf as 14th District Representative. 

I have owned a home in Sussex County for more than 25 years, and have been coming to Rehoboth Beach for 40. I followed Kathy’s career, and know the time she has given to the people of the state and District. No one can match her ability to do the job. Kathy is a health care professional, and a mother, committed to continue to fight to protect every woman’s health and reproductive rights.

“As a registered pharmacist, I’ve been on the front lines when it comes to health care,” she said. “I’ve been with patients who cried at the counter when they couldn’t afford their medicines, administered COVID shots during the pandemic, struggled when my mother couldn’t schedule a doctor’s appointment for weeks, and joined my sister to advocate for her son, who is in a wheelchair, when he can’t get the services he needs. We have a health care crisis in Sussex County.”  

Kathy is committed to attracting, and retaining, doctors, nurses, specialists, and pharmacists, to the fastest-growing county in the state. She has committed to seeing state and federal regulators never again identify the families, and retirees, in the 14th district, as being under-served in healthcare.  

Kathy graduated from Cape Henlopen High School and her mom taught 6th grade at Shields Elementary. She knows first hand the struggles of our children, and teachers. She is committed to listening to, and working with, local and state officials, parents, and teachers, to ensure the resources needed to facilitate the best possible education for all our children.

Born and raised in the district, now bringing her family up here, Kathy understands the value of the unique, precious, natural resources in Eastern Sussex County. She will continue to work to protect our beaches and natural resources. She will fight for state funding for sensible, responsible, infrastructure and traffic projects, that truly meet the needs of the community. Kathy takes the fight to Dover understanding tourism with her experience as a six-term Rehoboth Beach Commissioner. She is a businesswoman, and founding president of Rehoboth Beach Main Street. She will fight to protect and promote local businesses, press DelDOT to improve traffic flow, and importantly, work with state and county officials to create more safe and affordable workforce housing.

No one has the broad experience Kathy has. She has been a member of the 14th District’s Democratic Committee; a trustee at Delaware State University; a member of the Delaware Film Commission; a member of CAMP Rehoboth Board of Directors and the YMCA Sussex Board; and Lewes-Rehoboth Meals on Wheels board. She volunteered with Delaware Food Bank, Just Soup Ministry, Shepherd’s House, Planned Parenthood, and the Seashore Striders.

Kathy was named State of Delaware, Tourism Person of the Year; Business and Professional Women’s Employer of the Year; and recently, 2022 Delaware Pharmacist of the Year. She is married to Steve, a river boat pilot, and is mom to three amazing children. Has one grandchild, and another on the way. 

Let me address the only issue some may have with Kathy. She was accused of six very questionable criminal counts when serving as a successful State Auditor. Of the most serious, the jury found her not guilty on three, and the judge threw two others out. She was convicted of one simple misdemeanor, for hiring her daughter as an intern, which she only did after the Delaware Attorney General assigned to her office, said it was legal. As Pete Schwartzkopf said at her campaign announcement, this is nothing that so many others in the state have done. Kathy said, “I’ve paid my debt to the state through a fine and community service. Now I’m ready to get back to what I have done my entire adult life — help and serve the people of Eastern Sussex County.” 

So, I am honored to add my name to those of Speaker of the Delaware House Pete Schwartzkopf, 20th District Representative Stell Selby, Dewey Beach Mayor Bill Stevens, Dewey Council member Paul Bauer, former Rehoboth Planning Commission Chair Richard Perry, former Ambassador Tom McDonald, former Rehoboth Beach Commissioner Steve Scheffer, former Dewey Mayor Pat Wright, and former Democratic County Chair and Judge, Mitch Crane, all endorsing Kathy McGuiness for 14th District Representative. 

They know Kathy is the candidate for those who want to see responsible, sustainable growth, and continued improvements in Sussex County. She said, “When elected, I promise to listen to your questions and concerns. I will reach out, and remain available for conversations with everyone. I will serve with renewed dedication and humility. I promise to give it everything I’ve got.” So, vote Kathy McGuiness for District 14th Representative on Sept. 10. She will make us all proud.

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

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Advocating for the Queer Community On and Off The Job

One organ donor can save up to eight lives



Kai Sprando (Photo Courtesy Infinite Legacy)

As a proud trans man, Kai Sprando recognizes the importance of visibility and education in fostering understanding and acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community. His commitment to spreading awareness and advocating for queer experiences is something he champions on both a personal and professional level. 

In 2019, Kai began working in the organ donation field as it provides a convergence of purpose and opportunity, which he embraced wholeheartedly to make a difference in people’s lives. Kai works as an Instructional Designer at Infinite Legacy, where he develops educational resources, curriculum and training plans primarily for clinical staff. At Infinite Legacy, he found not just a job, but a community of compassionate individuals who support him in every aspect of his trans journey.

In Kai’s eyes, organ donation is more than a medical procedure; it is a lifeline and second chance for individuals with end stage organ failure. He also sees it as a way for organ donors to continue their legacy of kindness beyond their time on Earth. He is deeply moved by the profound impact that one organ donor has to save up to eight lives. This knowledge fuels Kai’s passion for his work, driving him to encourage others to learn about the transformative power of organ donation.

For Kai, education is key. He believes that the more people know about and understand organ donation, the better equipped they are to make informed decisions and advocate for the cause.

“The opportunity to make a difference by saving lives as an organ donor is very powerful. When I pass, I want to know that if nothing else, I tried my best to help others. That’s what life is all about to me…finding ways to make the hard things in life a little less hard, one act of kindness at a time.” said Kai.

With his background in teaching and his viewpoint as a trans man, Kai has been invited to and spoken at several national organ donation and transplantation conferences providing insight and perspective on what it means to be trans and queer, allowing his peers the ability to be more effective and caring while interacting with LGBTQIA+ people and their families. 

Kai is passionate about advocating for marginalized communities and through his openness, vulnerability and willingness to share his lived experiences, Kai contributes to positive change in healthcare, particularly around gender and sexuality representation.

As he continues to advocate for change and build a better infrastructure around LGBTQIA+ needs and representation, Kai remains hopeful for the future. He has seen the important shifts and positive changes in healthcare in recent years and is determined to keep pushing for progress, one conversation at a time.

Everyone can register to be an organ donor. To learn more, visit

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