Yesterday (April 29, 2013), Washington Wizards center Jason Collins announced he was gay, making the 34-year-old NBA star the first male professional athlete for a major American sport to openly come out.
It’s 2013, but who’s counting? Like the majority of the country (with the exception of NFL player Mike Wallace, perhaps) am proud of Jason Collins. I applaud is bravery and look forward to how his honesty might affect the game and its fans.
I didn’t used to be such an advocate of celebrities (including athletes) “coming out.”
Not because I thought they shouldn’t, but because I thought they shouldn’t feel like they have to.
My opinions on gay celebrities coming out were based largely on situations in which the celeb felt he or she needed to clear the air or make a public announcement before someone else did (such as when former Grey’s Anatomy actor T.R. Knight publicly announced he was homosexual after cast mate Isaiah Washington reportedly insulted him with gay slurs on set).
To me, it felt like the celebrity felt pressured into disclosing personal information for the sake of maybe salvaging his public image, and I was angry that our society was still in such a state that a person’s sexual orientation could “ruin” or “tarnish” his public image.
However, as public awareness grew — as we became more aware of teens and young adults being bullied for their sexual orientation — I began to see different benefits to celebrities coming out. I set aside my old way of thinking (“These celebrities shouldn’t feel pressured to share their sexual orientation for image’s sake!”) for a new way of thinking (“These celebrities could save lives.”).
Let’s talk about facts for a second.
A 2011 study published in Pediatrics (The Social Environment and Suicide Attempts in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth) reported the social environment in which LGBT teens lived played a large role in suicide rates; specifically, LGBT teens living in unsupportive environments were 20% more likely to attempt suicide than those living in supportive environments.
Now let’s talk about the kind of real life that we don’t need statistics to understand.
- Jadin Bell hanged himself in an elementary school playground after intense bullying for being gay. He was 15 years old.
- Brandon Elizares left a note stating he “couldn’t make it” after killing himself following threats from classmates to stab him and set him on fire. He was 16 years old.
- Jay “Corey” Jones, a member of his high school’s gay-straight alliance, jumped from a bridge and ended his life after years of dealing with bullying from his school mates. He was 17 years old.
These kids might make up the statistics, but these are real kids who are killing themselves because a large part of our society just still doesn’t get it.
So, let’s applaud Jason Collins’s personal bravery. Let’s take heart in knowing he overcame whatever fears our society might have instilled in him and unapologetically announced his true self to the world.
After all, if he can be so self-accepting, maybe we can, too.
But, let’s also think about the other lives Jason Collins’s honesty might save. Let’s think about all the LGBT youth out there dealing with unaccepting parents, bullying classmates, and all the feelings of doubt, worthlessness, and shame they bring — the youth who feel they have no one to talk to and no one willing to listen — and let’s think about how Jason Collins’s honesty might encourage them.
Let’s think about all the lives that might be saved because Jason Collins — and all the athletes and celebrities before and after him — came forward and said, “I’m gay. I’m happy to start the conversation.”