TheGrio's 100: Anthony Woods, the future of gay black politics

TheGrio's 100 - Anthony Woods attracted national attention as an openly gay, two-tour Iraq war veteran running for Congress in Northern California...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Anthony Woods attracted national attention as an openly gay, two-tour Iraq war veteran running for Congress in Northern California. Woods didn’t win the primary election in 2009, but the impressive West Point and Harvard grad became a young leader to watch.

Woods, 29, was born on Travis Air Force base in Fairfield, California. He was raised by a single mother, Carolyn, who cleaned houses to support her family.

Overcoming numerous obstacles, Woods earned a Congressional appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. There, he served in leadership roles and graduated on the dean’s list in 2003.

He volunteered for his first deployment to Iraq in 2004 and in June 2005, was deployed again. He took command of a 64-soldier platoon that was involved in the Battle for Tal Afar. Woods brought home all of the soldiers under his command, and received both the Bronze Star and Army Commendation Medal.

After returning home, Woods entered Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and became active in numerous community activities and co-founded the first student chapter of the Fuller Center for Housing. Woods made three trips to New Orleans to help rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, and biked cross-country to raise money for Habitat for Humanity.

During his second year at Harvard, Woods decided he could no longer serve silently under the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. He was honorably discharged, but told he would have to repay the Army for his $35,000 education.

Woods earned a Masters degree from Harvard in 2008, and was selected to give the school’s commencement address. He was also honored for his work mentoring low-income, minority youth applying to college.

Woods’ run for Congress gave him a statewide and national platform to discuss issues ranging from health care and public education, to the military’s policies regarding gays.

Since the election, Woods has moved to the Washington, D.C. area to join Be the Change, a Boston-based non-profit that unites citizens in taking responsibility for public policy. His role gives him access to elected officials nationwide, a smart place to be, should this promising young leader mull another political run.