When the NBA’s Jason Collins came out last month in a Sports Illustrated column, he found cheery public support from nearly all quarters. Everyone from Bill Clinton to Steve Nash tripped over themselves to congratulate Collins on becoming the first openly gay active (male) player in one of the big four American team sports.
But the happy, politically correct mainstream reaction to the momentous news barely concealed what was happening just beneath the surface of George Stephanopoulos’ and Oprah’s giddy coverage. Anyone who tuned into talk radio — or Twitter — that day heard a very different take on Collins’ brave announcement.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace Tweeted, “All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys SMH.”
Mark Jackson, head coach of the Golden State Warriors, said: “As a Christian man I have beliefs of what’s right and what’s wrong, that being said, I know Jason Collins, I know his family…And certainly praying for them at this time.” Sportscaster Chris Broussard denounced Collins as a sinner.
CBS’ Mike Francesa said, “It means less than nothing to me that there is a gay player now out if the NBA. SI going to reveal this this week in — I don’t know why — I guess a dramatic attempt to sell a magazine, I guess. I have the story here and I’m not compelled to run and talk about it or read it. I really don’t care. I can’t be any more honest. I don’t care.”
This was the most typical sports talk radio take on the news. While most callers wanted only to talk about Collins and the specter of gays sharing the shower and locker room with straight jocks, the talk radio hosts wanted to change the subject. Monitoring sports radio in the Baltimore and D.C. markets that day, I was amused as the hosts desperately tried to change the subject away from the biggest sports story of the week, no doubt fearing for their jobs if they publicly agreed with their callers’ homophobic fears. We’ve arrived at a strange new place in the movement for LGBT equality where homophobia lives on but those who express it out loud are bullied into apologizing, their very careers dependent upon pretending they really like us.
No one typifies this strange new world better than Kobe Bryant, who chimed in with a supportive Tweet, “Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others.” Just two years ago, Bryant was fined $100,000 by the NBA for calling a referee a “faggot” during a game. His team, the Los Angeles Lakers, promptly announced a partnership with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to combat bullying. GLAAD said at the time it would advocate for “zero tolerance policies for anti-gay slurs at home games.” It’s not clear what that means but it sounds like a dubious mission for a national LGBT advocacy group.
Pretending that homophobia died because a dozen states enacted marriage equality ignores the facts and the reality of a nation still deeply divided over LGBT issues. Remember that there are no laws prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in 29 states (and in 34 states based on gender identity); we account for only about 4-5 percent of the population but 20 percent of hate crimes target LGBT people; 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT; 63 percent of all new HIV infections are among men who have sex with men, up 22 percent since 2008; sodomy laws remain on the books in 17 states, including Maryland and Massachusetts; the FDA still bans gay men from donating blood; immigration law ignores our relationships; DOMA and Prop 8 remain on the books; an estimated 28 percent of black trans people are unemployed. And on and on.
The support for marriage equality and the public embrace of gay celebrities masks the reality of a nation in which too many LGBT people continue to suffer because of old-fashioned bigotry and prejudice. Don’t believe the pro-gay hype.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.