In the arena of professional male sports, a National Basketball Association player announced Monday he is gay.
The announcement is seen by some as opening the door wide for others — whether they be athletes or everyday people — to have the courage to do the same.
“I think that him coming out, really just heralds what’s happening in society in general,” said Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political advocacy organization.
Martin, who married his husband in 2008, said Jason Collins’ courage to announce his sexuality in a very public way paves the way for others to feel comfortable about themselves and do the same. “I always say to folks … everyone knows a gay person, whether they be a part of your family, a neighbor, a coworker. This basically underlines that fact.”
Collins made the announcement through a first-person article in Sports Illustrated. He has played for six teams in 12 seasons, and most recently with the Washington Wizards. He is currently a free agent and wants to keep playing basketball, according to the story.
Collins’ announcement, Martin said, outlines that no one should be afraid to tell people who they are.
“He has a multimillion-dollar career, there’s a little bit of a risk for him, but that bridge will be crossed,” Martin said. “Sometimes, people are afraid of the new and the different. Once they get over that fear, it melts away pretty fast.”
Martin said one thing Collins said is that he is “learning to embrace the puzzle that is me.”
“That’s terrific because isn’t life one big puzzle with many different sized, weird pieces? Gay people are a part of that puzzle .”
Martin said Collins’ coming out was big news Monday because many people don’t want to “go first,” and Collins had the courage to do so.
“There are absolutely other (gay male athletes),” Martin said. “When the third or the 23rd comes out, it’ll be a lot less news. But there always has to be that one person that comes out first.”
John Dawe, CEO of the NEPA Rainbow Alliance, board member of Equality Pennsylvania and Wilkes-Barre businessman, is a well-known voice for the area LGBT community.
Dawe said Collins’ story is a “coming-out” story, and the reason people don’t come out as gay, he said, is because they fear discrimination, lack of equality and lack of acceptance.
As an example, Dawe said the Rainbow Alliance was going to honor someone at a recent event for the work the person quietly did for the community behind the scenes. But that person declined the honor. “They said, ‘If I’m gay in this field I’ve chosen to pursue, I’m not going to get a job,’ ” he said.
“Unfortunately, discrimination is alive and legal in Pennsylvania. Surprisingly, unlike race, ethnicity, veteran status and other groups, absolutely no protections exist for LGBT citizens in employment, housing and access to opportunity,” Dawe said, adding that plans are underway to introduce legislation in Harrisburg that would prohibit such discrimination.
In the meantime, Dawe said, it’s essential that LGBT people in any high-profile position who have come out of the closet “advocate for equality in that area.”
“We applaud Mr. Collins for looking past fear and are hopeful that he and those in similar positions of public image will use the stage afforded them to advocate for equality and fairness for all,” Dawe said.
“LGBT Americans are our teachers, doctors, business leaders, neighbors, friends, family, clergy, and, of course, professional athletes,” Dawe said, and everyone needs to realize that.
Dawe said he didn’t know if Collins’ coming out might inspire young gay athletes to do the same, but it would make them feel more comfortable if they chose to.
“Obviously it’s a decision someone has to be ready for and do in their own time. What will really help people to come out is to not fear being discriminated against,” he said.
Paul Zbiek, who teaches a sports and society class at King’s College, said he was very much expecting a professional athlete to come out as gay soon, based on media reports.
“It’s not unexpected,” Zbiek said.
Zbiek said Collins shouldn’t be looked at as a player because of his sexual orientation since he is now a free agent, but because of his veteran years as an NBA player and that he is a solid player.
“If (teams) are looking for someone like that, I think he’ll fit the bill,” he said.
Zbiek said Collins’ coming out was breaking news, not so much for the younger generation, but the older generation.