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The Inauguration: Eric Mettner Was There

Concord resident turned his life around during President Obama's first term and won tickets to last week's inauguration

Eric Mettner remembers President Obama's first inauguration in 2009 quite well.

He was watching it alone, on a television in his apartment in San Francisco.

At the time, Mettner was abusing drugs and alcohol, having casual sexual relationships and working from one job to another.

"I remember sitting there crying, thinking we had a black president and here I was," recalls Mettner. "I remember thinking that I had a life once. I had capabilities. What had happened to me?"

A lot has changed in the four years since.

Mettner has given up the alcohol and drugs. He learned he was HIV positive and decided to become celibate.

He moved in with his sister and aunt in Concord. He became an uncle when his niece was born, an event Mettner says saved his life.

He became active in politics. And Mettner was able to attend this month's inauguration after telling his life story to Rep. George Miller's office and being awarded two of the coveted tickets.

"I couldn't believe I was there," said Mettner. "I woke up with the echoes of the president's words in my head."

A Painful Road

It's been a long journey for the 35-year-old Concord man.

Mettner was born in Northern California and lived in Concord when he was in elementary school.

His family then moved to the Los Angeles area, where he finished out his childhood, being bullied in middle school for being overweight and effeminate.

"It was quite a cultural shock," he recalled.

Mettner went to San Diego State and was actually engaged to a woman, ignoring the gay impulses he knew were inside him.

He dropped out of college and returned to Northern California to be with his mother, who was dying of cancer.

"Those were amazing days. I got some closure in those three months," said Mettner. "My one regret is I didn't tell my mother I was gay. That weighs heavily on my heart."

He did tell his sister in 1997. He came out publicly in 1998, then told his father in person in 1999. Everyone, he says, was supportive.

Mettner lived all over the Bay Area the next decade and a half, including in San Francisco from 2005 to 2010.

He became what he calls a "hopeless gay" who was going to go out in a blaze of sex, drugs and alcohol. He was a deep trench of this lifestyle when he watched the 2009 inauguration.

In 2010, he learned he was HIV positive. That same year, he moved in with his sister and aunt in Concord.

In July 2011, his sister gave birth to a baby girl. Mettner said his niece helped change his perspective on life. It gave him purpose and perspective. So did living in a house in the suburbs.

"I decided I wanted to live," said Mettner.

Getting It Together

Mettner stopped his substance abuse, went public with his HIV infection and then decided to stop having sex.

"I didn't want to do to another person what someone had done to me," said Mettner.

He decided to contribute to society by volunteering in politics. Last fall, he started going into the Obama campaign headquarters in San Francisco and making phone calls to voters across the country.

He also contacted members of the gay community via social media to encourage them to vote. Many gays, he said, are hopeless like he once was and aren't interested in politics.

"This is something I've always dreamed of doing, making change happen," said Mettner.

After the election, Metter remembered his 2009 experience and decided he'd try to attend the 2013 ceremony.

"I thought that maybe I wanted to go to this inauguration," he recalled. "It was so important that President Obama won."

Mettner saw that Congressman George Miller was giving a handful of inauguration tickets to constituents. So, Mettner wrote to the office, telling them his life story.

On Dec. 14, he was walking out of a Adam Lambert concert in San Francisco when he checked his cell phone and saw the message from Miller's office, telling him he had two tickets.

"I just starting crying," Mettner said. "I had gone from having no hope in 2009 to going to the inauguration in 2013."

Inauguration Day

Mettner raised the money he needed to travel to Washington, D.C., a place he had never visited before.

On Monday, Jan. 21, he woke up at 3 a.m. and made his way to the "orange ticket section" in front of the Capitol. He was one of the first people there, so he was able to get right up on the front barricade of the section.

He met a family from Indianapolis who said they'd never met a gay person before. Mettner and that family talked for hours.

When the ceremony began, Mettner unfurled a rainbow colored blanket on the barricade. It stayed there while he and the people around him were mesmerized by the president's speech.

When the president mentioned gay rights, Mettner was captured by television cameras cheering and jumping. The family from Indianapolis also hugged him.

The Future

Mettner still savors his memories from that day and he wants to continue to put his motivation into action.

He plans to register more members of the gay community to vote.

And he wants to see gay marriage legalized. For Mettner, that act is more than just signing some papers and being able to say you're officially a couple.

"It's not about being married," said Mettner. "It's about life and family. That's being stolen from gay people every day."

He says there are different types of American Dreams. He wants everyone to be able to achieve theirs.

"It's simply about seeing people as people," he said.

Tina Fields-Dillow February 02, 2013 at 04:40 PM
I am so proud of this young man. Watching him change from a bright, happy child into a depressed, hopeless adult was hard. The choices he has made in the past 3 years to turn his life around have been difficult for him and those of us who love him. The man who returned from the inauguration with excitement and happiness in his eyes was the child I remembered and the man I had hoped he would become. Thank You, George Miller, for the tickets to the inauguration and Thank You, President Obama, for giving my gay nephew - HOPE.

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