Blog of Rights

First Major League Athlete Comes Out

By Shawn Jain, Media Strategist, ACLU at 2:37pm

"I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay."

With these 12 words and a powerful feature in the new issue of Sports Illustrated, Jason Collins has come forward as the first male athlete to openly identify as gay while still being active in major league American sports. And with it, the dizzying pace of progress in LGBT rights and visibility of LGBT people continues on its awesome forward march.

Many people have speculated that a major league gay athlete was bound to speak out soon. Earlier this month, NFL player Brendon Ayanbadejo, a vocal proponent of gay rights and marriage for same-sex couples, said that four current football players may soon come out at once.

But until today, we didn't know it would be professional basketball. We didn't know it would be a person of color. We didn't know it would be Jason. We didn't know it would be this poignant:

The strain of hiding my sexuality became almost unbearable in March, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for and against same-sex marriage. Less than three miles from my apartment, nine jurists argued about my happiness and my future. Here was my chance to be heard, and I couldn't say a thing. I didn't want to answer questions and draw attention to myself. Not while I was still playing.

[...]

The recent Boston Marathon bombing reinforced the notion that I shouldn't wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect. Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?

Few things captivate such a wide cross-section of Americans' attention span as major league sports, which is why progress in this arena can have such a powerful multiplier effect. This effect is even more profound for those of us who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, who just a few years ago never would have imagined that today would happen so soon.

But it has. So we take a moment to reflect, to congratulate Jason for his tremendous courage (and really, courage doesn't feel like a strong enough word to use here), and to continue to move forward until we've created a society in which LGBT people can live openly, where our identities, relationships and families are respected, and where there is fair treatment on the job, in schools, housing, public places, health care, and government programs. The ACLU has a long history of defending the LGBT community, and we will continue to do so until America is free of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Oh, and the Supreme Court cases Jason mentioned in his piece that served as a turning point in his decision to come out – those will be decided soon, including the ACLU's case U.S. v. Windsor, the challenge to the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act." For more, see aclu.org/edie.

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