Anthony Woods greets voter on the campaign trail (Photo Courtesy of Anthony Woods for Congress)
Earlier this year, Sean Penn and Dustin Lance Black received Academy Awards honoring their work in the film Milk, which chronicled the life of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California.
Many looked to this as a testament to the legacy of Harvey Milk, and suggested the film’s success points to yet another crack in this country’s collective homophobia.
While there’s no denying that Harvey Milk’s political career advanced the gay rights movement, for those with complexions filled with more melanin than milk, does his biopic mean anything more than the next film on their Netflix queue?
Chances are the answer leans towards no, which makes the candidacy of another gay California candidate all the more significant.
In April, Anthony Woods, a 28-year-old West Point graduate who recently earned his master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, announced his candidacy for a soon-to-be vacant seat in California’s 10th Congressional District.
Woods was an Army veteran in Iraq, but subsequently discharged for being gay under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Despite his lack of name recognition, Woods has effectively used social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to raise more than $100,000 for the fund-raising quarter that ended June 30th.
The two tour Iraq War Veteran has also recruited more than 800 donors – exceeding figures released by all of his competitors.
Woods’ ability to connect with a youth culture increasingly accepting of gays suggests a number of possibilities for black gay community.
Should Woods win the seat and go on to enjoy a lengthy and successful career in politics, it will be very hard for history to downplay his contributions to the political world the way it was done with civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. Many – including a number of black gays – know little about Rustin’s work to combat segregation, apartheid, and homophobia.
In the digital age where everything is photographed, taped, and blogged, Woods’ potential ascension from fallen victim of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ to the first black openly gay person elected to Congress will be a story told repeatedly to young gays of color.
And in telling the story of his life, it will be noted that the ex-second lieutenant in the Armor branch carried himself in a way antithetical to the character traits still largely associated with gay men; he speaks with confidence and remains assertive. For the number of black men who struggle with their sexuality, Woods’s largely positive depiction in the media may encourage others to come to grips with who they are.
To place pressure on Woods to be anything other than a respectful politician may read as excessive, but in a society where gay black men are still vilified in and out of their community, his story is remarkable and for his community, a well deserved tipping point.