When Michael Sam, a star linebacker at Missouri who will undoubtedly be drafted into the NFL in April, came out of the closet in an interview this week, it wasn't all that surprising that it created a stir or that there were those who thought he had no place in an NFL locker room. But, the reaction that was most striking was the one that read, "Of course he would come out now. Look at all the praise and publicity he'll get."
NBA journeyman Jason Collins announced he was gay last year. An image began circulating online that showed Collins on one side and Tim Tebow on the other. The text read: Bashed for Professing Jesus Christ (over the head of Tebow), Bashed for Professing Homosexuality (below the photo of Collins). It is a tired argument that conservative Christians drag out whenever they feel persecuted, a word that was once reserved for heinous conditions like slavery. Apparently, now, the mere suggestion that being Christian is uncool is en par with being thrown to the lions.
Maybe in popular culture, where the world often seems upside down, are gays lauded and held up for their bravery. This is the same world that interrupts important news to bring us a Justin Beiber update. It is not reality.
But, there are certainly plenty of celebrities who are gay and even politicians who are openly so. TV shows that depict gay men have been commonplace over the last 15 years or so, though most of them reduce them to cartoonish stereotypes. There have even been a few with lesbian characters, though to a lesser degree -- apparently gay men are more entertaining or something.
This, however, is also not reality. The popularization of the ideal of homosexuality runs counter to how it is treated in most of the rest of the country. Just as it is hard for the two coasts to understand the appeal of Jay Leno, he has been winning the ratings war for 20 years with his boring jokes and schtick-y banter. While we may not want to be divided into the simple red-state-blue-state ideology, it is often just the way it is. Here in Houston, one of the more diverse and inclusive cities in the country where we have an openly gay mayor who just got married to her longtime partner, we have had a rocky relationship with homosexuality that has included gangs who taunted and even murdered people for who they were. Lynchings of homosexuals in the south would have been as common as those perpetrated on blacks had they not hidden their orientation in ways black men simply could not hide their skin color.
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This undercurrent of hate still exists or we wouldn't need laws specifically to protect people simply for who they love. And still there are other laws on the books that expressly allow for discrimination against gays, nevermind prevent them from getting married. Homosexuals are still insulted and demeaned, some even physically abused, even in our modern world that supposedly praises them for coming out.
Sam eloquently laid out the reasons he was not concerned about the harsh reality of being gay in the NFL. He has lost three siblings prematurely and have two others in prison. He has done everything you could ever ask of a young man, let alone an athlete. He has literally pulled himself out of poverty and tragedy to make something of himself. And he chose to out himself BEFORE the draft, a move that most believe will hurt his stock, not help it.
I guess the hidden homosexual agenda conservatives tout out to scare those who don't know any better won't help him land a bigger paycheck in the NFL after all. All the praise that might be lumped on Sam by TMZ won't keep him from being discriminated against in the future. Because, despite belief to the contrary, being gay in this country is still difficult. It's not send-you-to-Siberia tough. It's not as hard as it was 20 years ago or 50 years ago. But, it's not the idyllic picture we are sometimes given by the media either.
The good news is we have people like Michael Sam to show that being gay is not a measure of worth. Achievement is. That is what the U.S. is all about. We believe in merit even if TMZ and right wing talk radio might try to convince you otherwise.