Monday, May 6, 2013

Giant Step Forward on Gay Rights Issues

Jason Collins: out of the closet, still on the NBA floor
The national news that has tongues wagging concerns professional basketball player Jason Collins. According to reports, the 34-year-old NBA center is the first active male athlete in the four major American sports leagues to come out publicly and state he’s gay. The fact that he’s the first to do so is groundbreaking.

              Collins received a call from former president Bill Clinton, the support of current NBA Commissioner David Stern, and is contemplating a future on-air appearance with Oprah. His bold move is producing ripples of awareness concerning the human rights of folks in the lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender (LGBT) community. At the same time, this news has implications that extend beyond one gay professional athlete.

              There’s another story. The one closer to home. It’s about normal, ordinary people in the community who are compelled to hide their full selves and therefore live outside the margins of Main Street. They are forced to hide all that they are, not because of what they do in public but rather what happens in the privacy of their homes, which should be nobody else’s business in the first place.

              Growing up, I remember the younger brother of one of my close neighbor friends. He was full of life and energy and was an incredible creative talent. He’d shoot baskets with us in the driveway and hang out sometimes in the basement when we were playing ping pong or pool. But what he excelled at was tennis. He also enjoyed the arts: especially photography, acting and performing.

Collins: ordinary person, extraordinary deed
              That he was gay wasn’t an issue. Truth is, he never directly told me his sexual orientation. But why would he? I didn’t tell him mine. Besides, what difference does that make when you’re shooting a layup?

              For me back then, what ‘being gay’ meant wasn’t really even on my radar. I guess I held a vague understanding. But it was more in the vein of guys not going with gals rather than guys preferring guys. I’m told my friend’s younger brother left our community many years ago for a place where he could more fully (and openly) embrace his true self.

              What I should have appreciated more when he was here was just how much not having his talents here diminished the quality of our overall community. It makes me wonder how many other folks have left or remain hidden because of intolerance, discrimination or worse.

              For those who choose to stay, many go to great lengths to conceal their complete selves, and who could blame them? I imagine it takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret as hiding who it is you love, not to mention the suffering caused by being robbed of their American right to the pursuit of happiness.

              The lesson in all this has been learned time and again by the way we have historically treated people who are different. Yet it also continues to be forgotten and bears repeating: without fierce vigilance, American civil liberties can slip away quickly. If we’re not watchful as a nation, the inequities of such doctrines as Plessy v. Ferguson – that fateful Supreme Court decision that made the phrase “separate but equal” famous – will always be waiting to rear its ugly head from the shadows of prejudice and intolerance.

              It’s hard for me to understand why so many people of so-called good will discriminate against an entire group of people just because they want to love another consenting adult. But the tide is rising toward change and so are attitudes. The message Jason Collins issued by stepping out makes him taller than his seven foot stature. Time for America to stand with him.

No comments:

Post a Comment