What an incredible few weeks it has been for the LGBT community. More evidence that our victories are reflective of the evolution that our country has seen this past year. With the news of Rhode Island and Delaware officially becoming the 10th and 11th states to recognize same sex marriage our efforts are truly showing progress. That coupled with Jason Collins, a veteran and still active NBA player coming out of the closet, a new precedence in our history illustrates what an immense breakthrough for our entire society.
Though there have been a few detractors that have strayed away from the significance of Collins’ coming out, this story has inspired so many men and women already to live and celebrate who they really are no matter what. It shows the world how the process of coming out is a harrowing but worthwhile journey, Even in this day and age it takes courage to come out no matter the circumstances or demographics an individual represents. Yet coming out on such a large scale, knowing the varying scenarios that can arise as a result of such a personal admission needs to be recognized.
I was so happy to see the amount of support this man was receiving for, unknowingly to him, taking LGBT community into another level of awareness. It shows the true diversity that this community is comprised of different ethnicity and races while providing greater emphasis on our different interests like sports. This story also showed that as a whole we do not reflect the stereotypes often projected in the media and even if we do, that we are so much more than those perceived notions of behavior. It brought tears to my eyes seeing an outpour of love that basketball fans and just progressive people that are willing and able to accept our sexuality is remarkable.
But for me a moment of pride and celebration was muted and met with a building frustration as time progressed. Because I began to think of Brittney Griner, an up and coming WNBA star that just came out last week as she was drafted. I kept thinking where is the outpouring of support for this woman? Are there not women that are still in the closet that may have just as hard a time coming out than a man? These questions began to swirl around and I felt that asking them was somehow diminishing the impact of Collins’ story. So I waited to write this because I did not want my opinion to seem as though I was trying to overshadow or diminish the monumental part of our history in the LGBT community when Jason Collins came out this week.
I didn’t like this feeling. I did not like that if felt that our society values the experiences of a man more so than a woman. That her story is not given the same value of a man. And when I brought this up in social media and in general conversation, the responses like “who is that?” or “who cares about the WNBA” or that lesbians don’t have to endure the same as gay men it frustrated me even more. It did more than that; it angered me, deeply.
The media itself did not do much better. Griner was given a 30 second spot on the 11 o’clock news and not much else. Nike even signed a deal with Griner and most LGBT news sites, blogs, and other reporting outlets have barely spoken a word about her, if they mentioned her at all. And Collins has had 24 hour coverage since his story broke. No covers on magazines. No invites to speak on radio and numerous tv interviews. As far as I know she hasn’t been invited to the White House either. Though her story has just as much impact on the women that are still in the closet, and looking for a face to show them that they can succeed at all their goals.
We forget how there was a long, arduous struggle that women had to endure just to be able to play sports yet it is still openly acceptable to criticize, even joke about their participation professionally. The Suffrage Movement was what led to the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s which led to the civil rights movement of today. To learn through our history how much women;s history influenced so much of our own only to be given less emphasis is unsettling. To be shown so little respect deeply disturbs me and once again reminded me of the other times where this community is not as welcoming as it appears.
As I read more breaking stories about Collins, more of the news read event as “Jason Collins, The First Out Professional Athlete” when that was not true. Men and women have been coming out in professional sports for years. We’ve had representation in boxing like Orlando Cruz along with a plethora of women that have come out in nearly every professional sport. It showed me where our priorities are and have always been and it does not feel like true equality.
This community does not fight as hard for the rights and recognition of women. How the bisexual men and women in this community are often laughed at and not given the platform of gay men in this community. How race/ethnicity is at times just as big an issue in this community as it is in the rest of society, sometimes even more so when there are gay men that believe that it is impossible for them to be racist. At times the open misogyny that some practice in this community angers me more than the total disregard of intersectionality, which women in this community also have to endure. I can only imagine the experiences women have to endure when they are slighted by a community that does not reach out to them.
It angered me to feel that the same misogyny that society embodies as a whole still has a grasp and is being kept alive by some members of this community. When I brought this to the attention of HRC they ignored it, which with some of the stories and rumors of their transphobia and lack of diversity within the organization I should not have been surprised. That angered me even more as I thought about how too often organizations like HRC and GLAAD set the tone of what this country sees as LGBT when it’s mostly comprised only of affluent gay men. They either didn’t feel a woman coming out was not as important or did not care
Our society still sexualizes women habitually and when she discloses her sexuality it is fetishized and not respected. Because we all know that there is this belief by some that it’s easier for a woman coming out. That us gay men have an immensely hard time coming out because of all the societal pressures, cultural norms and gender roles placed on us. That we are bullied more, threatened and attacked more as gay men.
It’s a common belief that most if not all women that play professional sports in any capacity is written off automatically as a lesbian when that isn’t true either. And if people believe that, since their sexuality is inferred that lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered women athletes have it easier. But if f we took the time out to read the varying challenges that women like Griner face, like bullying, fear of being judged, inner turmoil, then we’d give stories like hers much more agency.
Women are teased if they do things that no other women do or see as “normal” . Yet as a community our understanding of how similar the adversity we face is forgotten. Even with how much as some of the leaders of this community pride themselves on pushing forward equality in the rest of society, we need to do the same thing within and properly recognize the issues we do not focus on enough.
Women, like Griner, and their accomplishments should not be met with such disregard and apathy. To hear this kind of rhetoric from gay men, that know the varying degrees of discrimination and insensitivity directed towards us would with such a flat affect deeply disturbed me. I had to reconcile my strong opinion with adequately explaining the justification of my immense frustration on how easily we lose insight and focus of other members of this community.
I understand how important this story is because it challenges so many disparaging beliefs of what gay men look like and goes even further to illustrate that gay men are athletic and fit into the broad definition of what society thinks masculinity looks like. That we can love throwing a 3-point shot as much as he can love hair and fashion. But the stories of our sisters are ignored, overshadowed, or forgotten far too often.
We cannot ignore this problem, or continue with this air of displaced interests and lack of love toward the women in this community who deserve to be recognized just as much as the men. We need to remember that just as there’s some guy in college that plays basketball feels he can be out and proud because of James Collins that the same must be true of a woman feeling proud of what Brittney Griner has done for women. Let’s give the same recognition to women as we do men. We can do better.