Jake Reitan is a queer-boy mashup of Rosa Parks and the Fantastic Four's "Human Torch."
For the past few years, between classes at Northwestern and Harvard, this angel-faced boy with the soul of a queer outlaw has led a group of gay-friendly "freedom riders" on a tour of 55 college campuses discriminating against LGBT folk. It's called the Soulforce Q Equality Ride. The goal? Confront hate at its home bases. The reality? Reitan's arrest for trespassing.
That's the Rosa part. And as for the torch? Well, he's also a bit of a movie star. Reitan played a pivotal role in the '07 documentary For the Bible Tells Me So, filmmaker Daniel Karslake's exploration of religion, homosexuality and family. In the film he and his parents try to deliver a letter to James Dobson, a right-wing-radio nutsack and leader of the anti-gay Focus on the Family. Although Reitan kept his cool in front of Dobson's Colorado Springs, Colo., headquarters, when he spoke his voice broke with the pent-up passion of someone totally committed to a cause.
It was as if he was burning from the inside.
And now this 26-year-old Minnesota wonk has packed his bags and moved to Portland to help real-estate magnate Terry Bean—the most influential gay person in Portland who isn't going to be mayor and the first gay on Sen. Barack Obama's National Finance Committee—light a fire in support of the Democratic Party's presidential nominee via fundraisers and events geared to coax big bucks from donors.
"I've seen his work nationally and wanted to bring his passion and organizing abilities to Oregon," says Bean on snagging Reitan to help him on the campaign, among other duties. "He reminds me a little bit of me at that age."
Reitan first met Bean at a Human Rights Campaign fundraiser in Washington, D.C., a few years back when Bean gave Reitan $15,000 for his Equality Ride efforts. They kept in touch. But it was a chance meeting in Chicago's O'Hare airport, where both of them got stuck, that persuaded Reitan to follow Bean to Oregon.
"When they asked what I wanted on my business card, I said, 'Terry Bean's assistant,'" says Reitan. "I believe in Terry, and I'm here to make sure what he's doing politically is successful."
To that end, he and Bean will attempt to raise $4 million for Obama's presidential bid from queers, Portlanders and basically whoever else will give them money. It's a daunting task, even though it's just a drop in the bucket. "That [pays for] just one day's worth of work," says Reitan, explaining that $4 million equals 1 percent of the Democratic presidential nominee campaign budget.
"There is no question that if Obama is elected our next president we'll have significant national LGBT legislation passed for the very first time," says Reitan. "If he doesn't win, it won't happen. And our movement will have to take a long look at itself. There was no way I was going to sit this one out."
And as for his own political ambitions, Reitan says: "The only reason I would talk about running for office is because I'm gay. It's important for gay people to realize we can be successful candidates for elected office."