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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why What Jason Collins Did Matters

By now, anyone who follows the news would be aware of one particular "hot item" from the world of sports: Jason Collins, Washington Wizards center, has come out of the closet.

(Courtesy of

I am glad he did, because it matters.

I say this, not because it "should" matter to anyone who is part of the sexual minority, although that alone is reason enough. What I find bothersome is how Collins' message has been received by some sectors.

The messages of hate are to be expected, the ones raised by bible-thumpers, who invoke "morality" as if they invented the concept, I'm not worried about those. Any time now, I'm expecting the Westboro Baptist Church to show up at Collins' house or anywhere the Wizards are playing and picket him, wishing that it was his funeral, already.

But what bothers me is a different response, one I've seen online since Collins' revelation. It was a similar response I witnessed when CNN personality and talk show host Anderson Cooper came out.

(Courtesy of

Why are you all making a big deal out of this announcement?

The fact that naysayers are coming out of the woodwork to negate what Collins - and Cooper - did as something insignificant is proof that it isn't, because of one simple truth: we're not there yet.

And by "there," I mean a time when one's sexual orientation truly does not matter anymore. A time when you cannot be denied housing just because you're a gay man, when you aren't denied government/federal benefits just because you are a same sex couple, or a business refuses to cater your wedding or make your wedding cake because the customers are lesbian.

Let me repeat: We're not there yet.

Open any newspaper - or favorite online news portal, more likely - and what do you see whenever there is news that relates to the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered) community?

How gay people are destroying "traditional values."

How lesbians are being featured in a department store ad, making them "non-threatening."

How bisexuals are destroying "the normal way of things."

How the LGBT community is demanding that (secular) laws be changed for their benefit.

What this tells me is that we are still content in demonizing people just because they are The Other. If you need more sterling proof, you need not look further than how conservatives in the USA have thrown various (racially-motivated) epithets against US President Barack Obama. This is 2013, decades after African Americans have achieved equality by law.

So it is rather unsettling to see some people downplay Collins and the significance of his act: He is black, gay and in an industry that thrives on being one identified as a "man's man" interest - sports. He has every reason to stay in the closet.

But he chose not to, and he says why much more eloquently.

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.

(Read more reactions here.)

Growing up, the only openly gay sports figure I read about was Olympian Greg Louganis. And even then, the attempts to downplay his revelation were apparent: "it's okay, diving isn't really a sport" or "diving is just like dancing, so it's OK to be gay there." It didn't matter that Louganis racked up one Olympic medal after another, as long as the sport wasn't culturally considered "manly." 

They can't do that with Collins now. 

This is a multi-billion dollar industry, one of the epitomes of macho culture. Even in a country like ours - considering our average height - we view basketball as a must for boys. I remember thinking "why can't we choose what sports we want?" back in elementary and high school, and dreaded having to step onto the hardcourt. Not to mention, my parents had a little court built in our backyard for me to play in. And while so many services and infrastructure projects are lacking, there seems to be a basketball court in every barangay.

It is in this industry, against this backdrop of conservatism and conformity, that Collins chose to come out.

And that is why, what Collins did really matters. Until such a time that we are no longer "there" - and this could take a few years, decades, even past a century - every coming out remains potent, and its power is derived from knowing someone who is other-than-straight. Once you know someone who is gay, especially a person you have known and have formed a bond with, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify hatred and bigotry in an effort to prop up somebody else's version of "morality."

May this be the beginning of the end for homophobia in sports. Because, as it turns out, some of us can throw balls.

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