Jason Collins Is a Hero

Washington Wizards center Jason Collins (98) warms up before their game against the New Orleans Hornets at the Verizon Center
Washington Wizards center Jason Collins (98) warms up before their game against the New Orleans Hornets at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., Friday, March 15, 2013. (Harry E. Walker/MCT via Getty Images)

In the upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated, Jason Collins, who played with the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards this season, openly states that he his gay. As the first active male athlete in a major American team sport to announce that he is gay, Collins has done far more than confirm his sexuality. With courage and dignity, he has taken it upon himself to stand as a role model for others, and push for equality both within sports and in society at large. This is undoubtedly a breakthrough moment in athletics, and another step towards fairness and tolerance in the African-American community. As a civil rights leader who has advocated on behalf of LGBT rights, I can unequivocally say that this is a tremendous moment of encouragement. And now I call on others within black leadership of all fields to embrace this development and utilize it as a teaching tool. Justice only prevails when the walls of bigotry come down.

It's easy for some to look back at the days of slavery, or the time period right before the great civil rights era and shake our heads in disbelief at the amount of ignorance and intolerance present. But progress, whether it was the fight for women's rights or the rights of minorities and other oppressed groups, only occurred when people had the bravery to speak out and stand for something, even at the risk of personal attacks. Jason Collins, a successful athlete, could have quietly enjoyed his continuing rise to stardom, including all the amenities that come with it, but he made a conscious decision to utter truth to power because the perils of staying silent only further ignorance. I salute the courage and candor of Mr. Collins, and believe he has made an incredible contribution to this country both on and off the basketball court.

For years, I have advocated on behalf of others, including our brothers and sisters of the LGBT community. I've supported an individual's right to marry who they please, I've urged the Supreme Court to end discriminatory policies like DOMA, and I've preached in favor of acceptance time and again. Today, as Mr. Collins takes this bold step to further equalize our nation, leaders from all communities must stand with him and prevent ignorance from seeping into people's hearts and minds. We cannot be custodians of intolerance and freedom fighters at the same time. In order to push for civil rights and self-expression, we must be certain that we fight for everyone's civil rights. We cannot pick and choose when it comes to justice.

I've had members of my own family who are gay talk about what it's like to live with the anxiety of denying who you are, and living with the fear of being exposed -- a psychological and emotional burden no one should have to suffer from in an open and free society. I have family members who ask why they can't have the same legal rights as others simply because of who they choose as a loving partner. This spells inequality and a double standard. Many of my fellow members of the Church think that marriage is sacred between a man and a woman according to the Bible, but if that's the basis, then why do we allow secular judges to conduct marriage when we don't know what the judge's personal beliefs are, if any? Why don't we have Churches issue marriage licenses instead of courts? Why don't Churches conduct divorces, child custody cases for that matter? Why should the Church stop at marriage ceremonies, why not the entire entity of marriage and family? The answer is, we really don't believe that ourselves and we live in a nation where we do have separation of Church and state. Therefore, why should anyone get to decide which partners are afforded legal rights and which partners are not?

"I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm Black. And I'm gay," writes Jason Collins in the May 6, 2013 issue of Sports Illustrated.

"I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying 'I'm different'. If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand."

His honest, heartfelt words prove yet again that courage is not something unattainable; it is already within us. It's just a matter of finding that courage, molding it and letting it shine. God bless Jason Collins for helping to show us the way. Now the rest of us must support him and others in their fight for equality. Regardless of our own personal preferences, we cannot condemn anyone for being gay or choosing to love someone from his/her own gender. And we cannot continue to support policies that discriminate against them. Equality and progress mean equality and progress across the board, plain and simple. The struggle still continues, but thanks to Mr. Collins, justice for all is one step closer.

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