Living in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage has been the law of the land for nearly a decade, it's easy to forget that things aren't so simple for the rest of the country. I'm sure we've all seen the tweets from homophobes near and far, berating and threatening Wizards center Jason Collins for coming out as gay in a Sports Illustrated editorial, but the reaction from most people I know has been to shrug and give a variation of, "So what? Who cares?"
But Jason Collins matters. Sure, we've had retired professional athletes come out before, and all cited fears of retribution as their reason for waiting. It is a huge deal to have an out player in the NBA, and yes, it's because of his visibility.
I am a straight, white woman living in Massachusetts, and I cried when I read Jason Collins' editorial. I try to keep my politics out of this blog as much as possible, but this hit too close to home. I've written about my mother before in this space, but I've been vague enough to never clarify that I had two mothers.
My mothers and me with my sister and my brother-in-law, at their wedding in 2009.
It's not a secret anymore, but when I was growing up in rural New Hampshire, my parents risked losing their jobs if anyone knew about the nature of our family, so I had to tell any curious friends that I had two moms because they were "roommates." Of course, there were some parents who saw through the veneer, and told their children to avoid my sister and me, as if lesbianism was something contagious they could catch by riding bikes or jumping rope with us. The people who clutch their pearls and ask "What about the children?!" are the real problem - my childhood would have been perfect without the influence of their bigotry.
So what does all this have to Jason Collins? As far as me, personally, not that much. But every high profile, well-respected, out and proud gay person is another strike against homophobia. Children shouldn't have to keep a fundamental part of their very nature a secret from their parents. Parents shouldn't have to rely on their children to lie about a loving, nurturing family so that the neighbors don't have to rethink their own outdated biases.
Jason Collins wrote a beautiful editorial about the acceptance of his family and close friends, and I hope that the messages of support from teammates, opposing players, and fans far outweigh the inevitable and horrifying vitriol that's sure to come from some people. His presence in the NBA and the public eye means everything to millions of people and their families.
Is it unfair to Collins to ask him to be the standard bearer for gay men in professional sports, and by extension a role model for LGBT youth everywhere? Of course it is. In an ideal world, Collins would represent only himself - but we don't live in an ideal world. Jason Collins matters because he has been brave enough to stand up, when no one else could or would - and he knows he's not standing up only for himself, that this announcement means the world to thousands of little kids, gay and straight, all over the US and the world.