Damn shame, all this homophobia

I love the internet. Surfing websites, shopping, researching information, reading blogs, e-mailing, instant messaging (IM), and my latest craze – the webcam – you name it, I'm right there. I probably spend more time online than I care to admit to anyone let alone myself.
Despite the web's infinite access to information, people and products it still pales in comparison to a book. The weight of a book in my bag as I wait for a plane assures me I have a friend to spend quality time with to pass the time. The words take me to new places, introduce me to other cultures, inform, educate as well as entertain me.
I still get a thrill when I figure out who-dun-it before the last page. I get a sense of satisfaction that justice will win out when the villain gets his or her come up pence. My taste buds tingle as I look at photos of an exotic dish and read the mixture of ingredients from far off places. I laugh. I cry. I learn. They are my friends. I am a book reader.
An interesting perk of being a book reader are the people you meet and conversations that ensue as some one notices your book's cover or reads the title on its spine. These conversations have been particularly interesting lately as I walked around with my new friend "Man in the Middle" by John Amaechi.
Amaechi, a former NBA player, came out publicly in February and is currently on tour with his book. He is the first player associated with the National Basketball Association to come out. A firestorm of controversy erupted from basketball personalities, most notably Tim Hardaway, about having a gay athlete in the locker-room. Sadly too many comments showed that homophobia is still alive and well in professional male sports.
What was the shock, that there are gay men not only playing sports but doing so on a professional level? Billy Bean and Esera Tuaolo had come out after having successful careers in professional baseball and football. Was it such a leap to believe that gay men were active in the NBA as well?
As I stood in line purchasing "Man in the Middle," the man standing beside me said to his companion "Man do you believe this" pointing at the book. "Not in the NBA man. That's a damn shame." Of course I had to ask him just what the "shame" was, which led in to the predictable fear of a gay man in the locker room conversation.
I asked about the importance of talent, the ability to play the game. I even used Rasheed Wallace's famous "Ball don't lie" line to back up my argument that it is about talent. Ok, I could not cite statistics or tell you what position Amaechi had played but it seemed that if he had had a career in the NBA that had spanned several years and with more than one team, he must have some talent. After all, the movie was not "Gay men can't jump?"
Wesley Snipes a straight actor who starred in "White Men Can't Jump" went on to play a drag queen in "To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar." That's an entertainers job after all to play the role, do the job and do it right. Straight actors are playing gay characters; gay actors are playing straight characters. Its about talent and skill. Professional sports is entertainment so why shouldn't there be gay athletes in the locker room. The vacant stares told me I was wasting my time, so I picked up my new friend and left the building.
I took my copy of Amaechi's book to work and of course the conversation continued. "What about Sheryl Swoopes?" I asked. Of course that was different. After all she was a woman and in the WNBA. Seems sexism, as well as homophobia, are alive and well in America.
"Why did he have to write a book?" or "He just came out to sell his book," also came up. Really! Speaking as a struggling author, I can assure you that if coming out of the closet helped sell books the ranks of authors in the lgbt community would take a huge leap.
But the most troubling comment to me was why didn't he come out while he was playing?
I had the opportunity to meet the man, John Amaechi, recently in Washington, DC. At six foot ten inches, he is an imposing figure, but as he spoke I heard our story – the story of coming out.
Amaechi told of coming out to his sister. He wrote "I'm gay" on a piece of paper, drove an hour to her house , gave her the note with instructions not to open it until he was gone, then got back in his car and headed home. Fortunately, he turned around halfway home and went back to his sister and had that conversation we have all had with family and friends in our coming out process.
He told of the fear of having his career end if management found out that he was gay. An athlete's skill and big money contract offered no protection from discrimination in the workplace. He experienced the same fear each of us in the lgbt community face daily knowing we are not protected from firing in the workplace for being gay.
There is still no Employment Non-discrimination Act to protect us. It doesn't matter if we are a janitor or a NBA star, our lives and the well being of our families are in jeopardy simply because we are gay. Soon, ENDA legislation will again come before the house and senate for approval and hopefully this time we have the votes to get this needed protection.
There is no right time to come out. Every time and anytime is the right time to do it. For young people and other athletes, John Amaechi sends a message of hope. For the rest of society, Amaechi's coming out and yes his book and the conversations it starts, sends out the reminder to the Tim Hardaways, and Ann Coulters of the world – "We're here. We're queer. Get used to it." Because the times they are a changing.

Topics: Opinions

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