Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton: Gay NBA player's 'coming out' chips away at intolerance

Published: Wednesday, May. 1, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, May. 2, 2013 - 8:08 am

Each time a prominent gay person "comes out," a little bit of intolerance dies.

That's the significance of Monday's announcement that Jason Collins, an NBA basketball player, was stepping out of the closet of taboos and secrets and telling the world he is gay.

Collins' story was front-page news because America's major male sports leagues are among the last bastions of homophobia; it marks the first time a player still active in one of those major sports has come out.

Some say Collins' age – at 34 he's an older player – and the fact he no longer is under contract with any team diminishes his announcement; he may never play NBA basketball again.

That misses the point.

Collins may not be a perfect fit for comparison with Jackie Robinson, the African American icon who integrated baseball in 1947. He doesn't need to be.

Instead, Collins is like a relay runner ready to pass the baton of equality to anyone emboldened enough to carry it.

What matters is that some young people will surely be inspired to follow his example, a significant victory amid all the news of gay teens doing harm to themselves after being bullied in school.

What matters are the older folks who have lived the lies and secrecy and are heartened by the undeniable progress his act embodies.

Dennis Mangers, the former Orange County assemblyman, concealed who he was for years, hiding in plain sight at great cost to his own peace of mind.

He was first elected to the Assembly in 1976, but kept his sexual orientation closeted until after he left the Legislature in 1980.

And even after he came out, Mangers sometimes had to tell otherwise progressive male friends that, no, he was not attracted to them. He remembers one of those exchanges, around a campfire on a professional retreat, when his colleagues feared sharing his tent.

"I'm a professional. I operate in my realm with good taste," said Mangers, now 73. "The last thing I would do in that setting is something inappropriate."

As with Collins, when Mangers did come out, it was not a statement about homosexuality being his entire identity. Rather, it was about living without fear and the feeling he had to lie about himself – even to close friends and family.

Some ask why the Collins announcement is news at all. Why should anybody care? A good question, and here are some others:

Why are gay people still subjected to physical and emotional abuse for simply being who they are?

Why are some people driven to fight marriage equality all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court?

Why are homophobic remarks so commonplace in our language?

Why can't we simply live and let live?

It becomes easier when intolerance dies a little each day.

Call The Bee's Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096. Back columns, Follow him on Twitter @marcosbreton.

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Read more articles by Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton, news columnist

Marcos Breton

Hello, my name is Marcos Breton and I'm the news columnist with The Sacramento Bee. What's a columnist supposed to do? I'm supposed to make you think, make you laugh, make you mad or make you see an issue in a different way. I'm supposed to connect the dots on issues, people and relationships that cause things to happen or prevent them from happening in our region. I also write a weekly baseball column during the baseball season. I am a voter in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yes, I have voted for Barry Bonds - twice. I am a native of Northern California. I am the son of Mexican immigrants. I've been at The Bee for more than 20 years, and I love Sacramento.

Phone: 916-321-1096
Twitter: @MarcosBreton

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