No one is proud of Jason Collins for being gay. Being gay or straight, black or white, male or female, left-handed or right-handed, blue-eyed or brown-eyed, is no reason for anyone to be proud. We are what we are.
Unlike being blue-eyed or brown-eyed, however, being gay carries a stigma, a judgment, an often unbearable burden. Being gay means keeping quiet when others are sharing about their spouses or their dates or joking around in the locker room, because to share one’s own stories would stop all conversation. Being gay means closing oneself off from potential friendships because, once the “friend” learns that the gay person is gay, rejection is more the rule than the exception. Being gay means knowing that to be open about one’s orientation is to invite the world to cave in around him/her. To lose a job, to lose the love and support of family, to be accused by one’s religious community of being outside of God’s grace.
But according to the American Psychological Association, one of every ten males is gay, and one of every twenty females, and, despite the misguided judgment that many religious groups continue to pass down, people do not choose to be gay or straight. Gay people have been a part of every civilization and every time period in history, without geographical, racial, or religious boundaries. Gay people are in every work environment, in every sport, in every family, hiding and fearing rejection. But for gay people to live their entire lives in fear means the next generation will live with those fears too, and the next, and the next. Someone has to break the cycle.
It is for those future generations, as well as simply for a desire to remove one’s own prison walls, that the most courageous gay people choose to “come out.” It is because gay people know for certain what others can only talk about on a “they” basis, and if future generations are going to have a better chance at life, gay people know they must courageously tell their stories. Most never do. The risk is too great.
But Jason Collins did. Not after he was out of the NBA, but while he was at the top of his game, while he had everything to lose, while the nation was focused on him. Jason Collins is a hero to every gay person, present and future, and to every person who loves someone gay. To every young person whose family has rejected him/her, to every young person who is struggling with self-acceptance in a world that seems unable to understand, to every precious human being who has contemplated taking his/her own life to escape facing a lifetime of rejection, Jason is a hero.
No one is proud of Jason Collins for being gay. We are proud of Jason Collins for being courageous enough to put his own life on the line in the hopes of making tomorrow just a little better for someone else. Isn’t that the real definition of a hero?
Kathy Vestal is a college educator in Salisbury, NC. She has a Master’s of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master’s of Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. An avid writer, gifted teacher, and occasional public speaker/preacher, her passions include civil rights, social justice, church reform, and education. She has traveled to Mexico, Honduras, Argentina, Ecuador, and The Gambia, Africa, and enjoys reading, nature, and history.You can follow her personal blog at http://kathyon.blogspot.com/ or follow her on Twitter @VestalKathy
Photo Credit: Kwaku Alston/For Sports Illustrated