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The fascination of coming out

Published: Thursday, May 2, 2013

Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05

   On April 29, NBA center Jason Collins came out in an article on Sports Illustrated online and became the first openly gay male athlete active in a major American team sport. He said he wasn’t looking for that distinction, but saw the need to come out because nobody else in a major American team sport would.

I applaud Collins’ decision to come out. I don’t applaud so much the base for public reaction and large unanimous support of the athlete.

I’ve read responses that speak to Collins’ courage, his difficult journey and his status as a pioneer, but I feel these are facile bandwagon attempts at supporting a fashionable movement.

Being gay is tough, we know, but as of late there’s been such hunger for defining gay public figures, that at this point, anyone outed in the public eye is getting accolades left and right for their sexual orientation. I’m thinking of Frank Ocean and Anderson Cooper, for example, respectable figures in their own fields that saw a rise in popularity after coming out.

There was also, for example, a surge of media coverage that Alan Gendreau received during the weeks leading to the NFL draft. A former Middle Tennessee State kicker, Gendreau is openly gay and just about any major media outlet covered his story as an NFL prospective draft, not so much because of his talents as a football player, but because he is openly gay.

He told The New York Times, “I’m a kicker that happens to be gay.” Collins, too, had a similar stance on coming out and rightfully acknowledges that this is a small step. He said, “Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start.” Although a pragmatic stance, I find it less dangerous than the attempts to force a public figure to be a role model for the LGBTQI youth and to fill the role of the token gay voice of their profession.

I can’t deny the power that these openly gay public figures play in the public sphere however. I remember being a young film enthusiast watching the 2009 Oscar telecast when Dustin Lance Black went up to receive his award for Best Original Screenplay for “Milk.” He said directing himself to the gay and lesbian youth, “You are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights.”

This nearly brought me to tears because it made me believe in a brighter future for myself, but then I thought about the film’s screenplay, a great one at that, compared to some of the other nominated screenplays: “WALL-E” and “Frozen River,” and just couldn’t see Lance Black winning.

All to say that we should recognize gay athletes, gay artists and public figures of the LGBTQI community for their contributions to their fields and not for simply being an underrepresented minority.

Andres Rodriguez may be reached at prospector@utep.edu

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