The recent news that NBA center Jason Collins is gay was greeted with widespread attention and acceptance. In a measure of just how much public opinion has shifted, the 34-year-old Collins was lauded for his courage in coming out of the closet as the first openly gay male professional athlete currently active in one of the four major sports leagues in this country. Collins even received a phone call from President Obama.
Most agreed that this is a good thing for professional sports. More importantly, it is a good thing for young lesbian, gay and bisexual people struggling with their own sexuality. Hopefully, Collins' announcement will help save lives. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) teens may be up to five times more likely to commit suicide than their peers.
The Trevor Project, a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people under 24, weighed in on the announcement:
For nearly fifteen years, The Trevor Project has heard from young people all over the country who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning. Too often, they struggle with accepting who they are, or helping the important people in their life love, understand and accept them. Coming out is a brave thing to do, for anyone because of the prejudice, fear and hate that too often confront LGBTQ people for being who they are. Today's public announcement by NBA veteran center, Jason Collins, that he is gay is an important step in professional sports and makes a great deal of positive difference for his young and impressionable fans.
As Collins wrote in Sports Illustrated, his announcement affects most families:
Some people insist they've never met a gay person. But Three Degrees of Jason Collins dictates that no NBA player can claim that anymore. Pro basketball is a family. And pretty much every family I know has a brother, sister or cousin who's gay. In the brotherhood of the NBA, I just happen to be the one who's out.
In an interview with New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, Collins described how difficult it was to conceal who he was:
It's tough to live a lie. It's really tough: I describe it as you know the sky is blue but you tell yourself it's red. It's an insane logic. It's tough to continue to live with lies and half-truths. It weighs on you. You put on a mask, but at the end of the day, you're not happy telling yourself a lie over and over again to the point where I am now being honest and truthful and not having to have a censor button, it's liberating.
Coming out isn't just healthy, necessary and liberating for gay people; everyone else benefits as well. Lies are destructive, not only to the person telling them but to everyone else who becomes collateral damage. For example, Carolyn Moos, who had an eight-year relationship with Collins, told TMZ that she had no idea that he was gay. His former fiancée said she never suspected it at all and could not understand why he broke up with her.
"It's very emotional for me as a woman to have invested 8 years in my dream to have a husband, soul mate, and best friend in him," she said. "So this is all hard to understand."
Hopefully, she will now go on with her life and find a husband, soulmate and best friend. But despite her shock and heartbreak, she added that she wants Collins to be true to himself, and wishes the best for him.
I suspect that is what most people who love someone who is gay -- boyfriend, girlfriend, brother, sister, child, niece, nephew, cousin or friend -- would want for them. If they only knew! It's time to open all the closets for the emotional health of everyone in the family.
George Will, the conservative pundit, once said that to his children's generation, sexual orientation is no more consequential than eye color.
Perhaps with honesty, love, forgiveness, acceptance and understanding, that day is not too far off.