By Shaley Howard, PQ Monthly
As a lesbian who’s been out for more than 20 years and who some might call “Super Gay,” I am thrilled that NBA player Jason Collins has come out of the closet. I applaud and support anyone who has the courage to come out and I truly believe that, whether you’re a celebrity or not, it takes guts. As an African American gay man, Jason Collins is and will continue to be a strong role model for many people.
He is receiving so much positive attention — countless people and organizations applauding his courage, support from his basketball teammates, and even a call from President Obama — it’s almost a hero’s welcome. Again, all great and he should be commended.
However, he and we stand on the shoulders of giants who did not receive a hero’s welcome and instead faced extreme backlash and even hatred. There have been countless people before him that paved the way so his coming out, albeit courageous and fantastic, was a much easier path. Athletes and celebrities like Martina Navratilova, Greg Louganis, Ellen DeGeneres, and Billie Jean King who’ve been out for decades and faced struggles I can only image.
Billie Jean King, a female professional tennis player who played from the late 1960s to early 1980s, won 20 Wimbledon titles, 13 U.S. titles, and in 1973 took on and beat male tennis champion Bobby Riggs who claimed the women’s tennis game was inferior to men’s. In 1981 King was outed and the public outcry was, well, an outcry. She immediately lost all of her endorsements and went from top of the hill to the bottom overnight.
Ellen DeGeneres came out 16 years ago when the acceptance level for the LGBTQ community was improving but still not great. After her public coming out in 1997 her then top rated show Ellen was cancelled within six weeks, she couldn’t find work for three years, and she was left behind by many of her fans and even in our own LGBTQ community. Thank goodness that Ellen is a resilient, talented, and badass woman as she clearly has shown the world what she’s made of after being knocked down.
What about Jodie Foster? Oh wait….did she come out?
It’s almost become chic and mainstream to be out and gay which again, all good. It’s called progress. But there’s still work to be done. Let’s talk a moment about the “T” in LGBTQ. What about our trans brothers and sisters and the kind of support both the straight world and the LGBTQ community gives them?
Has Fallon Fox, an American mixed martial artist (MMA) recently outed as a trans woman, received positive responses? Compared to other openly lesbian, gay, or bisexual athletes who are cisgender, Fox has not been applauded and supported overall in the LGBTQ community and certainly not by the outside world. Heavyweight Matt Mitrione called Fox a “lying, sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak.” Hmmm…Nice guy. It strikes me that we might want to recognize the level of strength and courage it takes to stand up and be yourself when the world, including many in your own community, still consider you an outsider.
Of course we support and applaud those who recently and currently come out — without question. And I’m sad to say, homophobia is unfortunately very much alive in our society and it’s not only incredibly difficult for many people to come out today, but in some areas even dangerous.
But while we applaud Jason Collins, let’s shine some of that “hero’s welcome” on our foremothers and forefathers who have dealt — and continue to deal — with an even more dangerous world. Where was Billie Jean King’s call from then-President Reagan congratulating her on her courage back in 1981?
My point here is that so many heroes have come before us that I hope we never forget and not take them for granted. Not to mention the countless, everyday people that have been quietly living openly LGBTQ lives, showing us every day for generations what true courage is — standing around the water cooler at the office and openly talking about your same-sex partner or holding your partners hand in public. Or our straight allies who speak up when their friends are making homophobic jokes — that’s courage.
Yes, we need heroes in the spotlight, coming out of the closet, and advocating equality for the LGBTQ community. But we also need to remember the shoulders we stand on and the everyday heroes that often go unnoticed.
Shaley Howard is a sports writer for PQ Monthly as well as an athlete, sports enthusiast, and organizer of the annual HRC Women’s 3×3 Basketball Tournament. She is also is the owner and operator of Scratch N’ Sniff Pet Care, which she considers the best job in the world. Shaley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.