Applewhite: New Yorkers can learn from Jason Collins' example, too
This week's news about Jason Collins, the NBA athlete who revealed his sexuality, has caused a lot of comment in my social network. On Facebook, friends and colleagues discussed other notable people who've come out in recent years and argued that their declarations could be less about taking a stand for gay visibility and more about getting personal publicity.
So we had a healthy debate about the value of Collins' coming out. Bearing in mind some of the points from those who consider his essay in Sports Illustrated a PR plot, or just insignificant in the great scheme of things, let's be clear: Jason Collins is a trailblazer.
As New Yorkers, we live in a liberal bubble. But even we haven't got homophobia beat. There are still communities in and around the five boroughs that face its impacts. As accepting as we like to think we are about homosexuality, all you have to do is look some recent local events.
I think about Tyler Clementi, who jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge in 2010 after he was outed by his roommate at Rutgers University, or the incident in the Bronx that same year, when gang members assaulted three gay men for 48 hours by torturing and sodomizing them.
It's not insignificant that Collins began his article "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay." Reports about homophobia in the black community are widespread. But I don't agree with the characterization. While a 2008 Pew poll reported that 67 percent of African-Americans opposed same-sex marriage, in 2012, the percentage declined to 49 percent. The pollsters found little difference between whites and blacks on the issue.
Collins' decision to reveal his sexuality in the face of potentially harsh scrutiny from the sports world and some members of the black community may indicate the changing views of Americans about homosexuality, including among blacks. But mostly, it is a testament to his courage.
The bottom line is this: If Collins' admission prevents another person from killing himself or herself, if it stops someone from getting gay-bashed or helps people fully embrace who they are, then let's have more trailblazers like him.
Sheldon Applewhite is an assistant professor at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. He tweets as @DrSApplewhite.