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Basketball is a sport I’ve only paid modest attention to. My knowledge of the sport is very limited. I know Spike Lee sits courtside at the Knicks games and Jack Nicholson is usually seen courtside at Lakers games. I know that Lamar Odom was a Laker and then went somewhere in Texas and then back to California again but that was only because the Kardashian headlines are inescapable at the supermarket and well, Lamar is married to Khloe.
But back to basketball, and really all professional sports. Jason Collins recently announced that he is gay in an essay for Sports Illustrated. I wish that I could say who cares or that it doesn’t matter, but it does matter, and I do care. You should too. Here’s why.
You know someone who is gay. You love someone who is gay. You may not know it, but you do. I promise you that you do.
When I was a kid back in what my kids describe as the Stone Ages, gay was thrown around a lot as an insult. I remember knowing a few girls who were athletic and my fear was that people would think that I was a lesbian like them. I know. Terrible. My fear didn’t come from not liking people who were gay. My fear came from the perceptions that others had. I suppose I had my own perceptions as well including the perception that girls who played sports were lesbians. Actually I knew that wasn’t true and I was secretly a little envious of their athletic ability but not so envious that many labeled them lesbians and some of the names I heard them called privately.
Things have changed somewhat but has it really gotten better? Is Jason Collins the only gay NBA player? NFL? NHL? MLB? I doubt it. So why is nobody coming out? Not that they owe it to the public to disclose. But are they telling the members of their team? I doubt that too.
So why is Jason Collins so important? Why do I love that our President called him to support him in coming out as a gay man and a gay athlete? I love it because I love people who are gay. I love it because I see their struggle and in 2013 still hear gay slurs being whispered privately. I love it because too many kids still think that gay is a funny thing to call someone and that it implies weakness. Too many kids think that it’s ok to call someone a faggot.
A kid that I love was recently taunted with gay slurs. He was repeatedly called “faggot” by some other kids. It wasn’t done in a joking fun kind of way, not that there’s anything funny about that word. The word is ugly and it was used to belittle and diminish. It was a word used to hurt and it did hurt. It didn’t just hurt the kid they called that ugly name though. Those kids hurt his family and his friends. They hurt all of the people who love him.
It hurt because we don’t look at him and see a kid who is gay. We see a kid who is creative and smart and has a beautiful heart. We look at him and see a person that we love, a person who would never hurt anyone with his words or his actions. He happens to be gay. Who is that hurting?
Jason Collins matters because in his eloquent essay he shares his fear of coming out and his worry that his world will fall apart. He talks about dating women and even getting engaged because it was what he considered a “normal” life. In his essay Jason Collins gives us a small glimpse of what it must feel like to hide who you are from so many people and how emotionally exhausting that can be. He matters because in coming out he is paving the way for other athletes and even some young kid who wonders if he will be accepted.
Jason Collins talks about Matthew Shepard and it is a poignant reminder of how much hate there is in the world and how far we’ve come and still have to go. It is a reminder of why it is so important that when we talk about the LGBT community we also remember that they are not just a community but people that we know and love. They are our brothers and sisters, our cousins, our friends, our loved ones. For every Jason Collins there is a kid somewhere who knows that there is hope and that they are not alone.
Programs like The Trevor Project, or on a more local level, Pride For Youth offer support for teens and young adults. Teens and young adults have more options for support, understanding and advocacy than when I was a teenager. We still have a way to go but we’re getting there. We all knew there were gay players in professional sports. Now we have an athlete brave enough to put his name on it. With Jason Collins will come more and hopefully we will look back and wonder what the big deal ever was.
That is why Jason Collins matters.
Kristen is a single mom of 3 kids and studying at The CUNY School of Professional Studies. She is blogging while she still figures out what she wants to be when she grows up.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), the official United States policy on gays serving in the military since December 21, 1993, officially ended on September 20, 2011. DADT was actually repealed by Congress last December, but enforcement was permitted until the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certified that repeal “would not harm military readiness”. Can you imagine requiring such certification and waiting periods when Truman issued an Executive Order ending segregation in the military? In any event, all certifications were completed by July and the mandated 60-day waiting period ended on September 20th.
Although homosexual men in the military faced recriminations since the Revolutionary War, they were not officially banned from service until after World War II. Warm bodies of any orientation were needed during wars. Through the years, openly gay service members faced severe discrimination and abuse, and were subject to dishonorable discharge, confinement in mental institutions and/or courts martial.
Bill Clinton campaigned on a promise to end the military’s ban on gay personnel, but after he was elected his proposal met intense opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, members of Congress from both political parties, and a large part of the public. As a compromise, Congress reached an agreement known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” and it became law. Military personnel would not be asked about their sexual orientation and would not be discharged simply for being gay. They could be gay but not act gay. Engaging in homosexual or lesbian activities were still grounds for dismissal.
The growing LGBT movement along with the revelation that the military discharged 20 Arabic and 6 Farsi linguists between 1998 and 2004 because they were gay greatly heightened the call to repeal DADT. President Obama campaigned on a promise to repeal the law and it was fiercely opposed by Congressional Republicans led by John “Faust” McCain, Lindsay Graham and entrenched military leaders. Many of the fiercest opponents of repeal were either sell-outs to the far right wing or self-haters afraid of their own ambiguous sexual identity. (Watch reruns of Glee featuring the football bully.) Those who want to keep government out of our lives are okay with it intruding on our lives when it concerns a woman’s choice or what goes on between consenting adults.
With the repeal of DADT, all qualified men and women can now choose to serve and protect our national security. The US is no longer the only industrialized country banning LGBT individuals from serving openly in the military.
Mary Casey is a student in the MS in Business Leadership and Management program at CUNY School of Professional Studies and is an alumna of Lehman College. She is an administrator for a university in NYC. She loves to travel and wants to see as much of the world as possible. Mary hopes to get more comments on the SPS blog than she received on the community/political blog that she created and maintained from 2002 to 2004.