As has been widely publicized over the last few days by every media outlet you can imagine, Jason Collins has officially come out as the first openly gay NBA player. I wouldn’t argue that this isn’t a huge step for LGBTQ people everywhere, but it brings the question to mind of why exactly is it such a big deal? Of course there’s the fact that it brings a great deal of visibility to the LGBTQ lifestyle. It definitely helps to defy the rumors that being unique in your sexuality means your life isn’t perfectly normal, there’s no denying that either. But aside from the ideas that arise when celebrities come out, what impact does it have on us as regular people?
There are a number of celebrities who are famous for their career first and their sexuality second; Ellen DeGeneres is a great example. When Ellen came out in 1997, the country was a very different, much less accepting place. Her coming out kicked off a new generation of celebrities being comfortable enough with their sexualities to be openly queer in the media. So, what have they done since then? It’s obvious that celebrities have more power than any of us; there has to be something good to come from all this fuss about sexuality.
In fact, I think their status is the greatest thing they bring to the queer community. People rely on celebrities—we feed off of their gossip and we look up to them as role models. The fact that more and more celebrities, famous for many different reasons, are coming out shows careers won’t be ruined by being yourself. It shows coming out makes people feel whole again, that being true to oneself is the most important part of life. It also shows while the story will be big and “breaking news” at first, there is a good chance it will blow over eventually and still leave a huge impression on our culture.
Collins’ coming out is a huge step because of his career. Athletics have always seemed to be one of the least accepting careers for gay men. For some reason, some men are afraid of other gay men, but Collins has helped to show that being gay does not change who someone is. Collins was gay before he officially came out—it is part of his identity. We all have our identities and it’s important to stand by that. He confronted himself, he says, in 2011 and began coming out to family soon after. He uses the metaphor of an oven in his coming out article in Sports Illustrated, saying, “Some of us know and accept our sexuality right away and some need more time to cook.” He followed up by saying he needed 33 years to come to terms with his sexuality, but has never felt more comfortable with himself.
Celebrities are coming out left and right now, which is a great thing. They help demonstrate success isn’t dictated by your identity, it is dictated by confidence in oneself and work ethic. Specifically, Collins shows that regardless of your career, it is important to accept yourself and be comfortable with your identity. Celebrities have exceptionally high social status and have a huge influence on their fans.
In coming out, Collins has opened up the opportunity for others to stop letting their identity get in the way of reaching their goals, personally and professionally.
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