Seven years ago today, Massachusetts sparked a fire that has yet to be extinguished when it became the first state in the Union to allow gay marriage.
Since 2004, 25 percent of states in our nation (including the District of Columbia) have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples in the form of civil unions or marriage.
The balance of power over the struggle for gay rights has teetered in years since. Both sides have invested precious time and money in their cause, and both sides have celebrated victory and suffered defeat. And while the outcome of our civil rights movement has at times seemed permanently stuck in limbo, something’s happened over the past two years. The game has changed. The seesaw has tilted once more.
This weekend, something happened. Something big.
Following an increase in coverage regarding homophobia in sports after Kobe Bryant’s “faggot” heard round the world and a number of prominent sports figures stepping up and speaking out against bullying and discrimination, Rick Welts did something no active sports figure has ever done in America. He came out as a gay man.
You may not have known his name before his announcement, but you will now. President and CEO of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, Rick Welts spent 40 years in sports before deciding to come out. “This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits,” Welts said in an interview with the New York Times. “Nobody’s comfortable in engaging in a conversation.”
His decision to come out at the age of 58 didn’t shock many of his friends and colleagues, but it stands as a significant step towards shedding a dark shadow that has plagued the world of sports for years.
The timing of Welts’ announcement corresponded with the surprising retirement of rugby icon Ben Cohen. And while he may be walking off the green, he takes up a new challenge with the formation of The Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation, an organization focused on combating bullying and homophobia.
“As athletes, it’s not enough just to have strong bodies. We must have strong characters and use our voices to support those in need and deserve it.”
The weekend concluded when Don Lemon, a prominent news anchor on CNN who chronicled his life and career in his new book “Transparent,” directed his Twitter followers to a New York Times article where he came out as gay.
“I’m scared. I’m talking about something that people might shun me for, ostracize me for,” he said. “It’s quite different for an African-American male. It’s about the worst thing you can be in black culture.”
But Lemon realized that coming out was bigger than himself. When Tyler Clementi took his own life after being bullied for being gay, Lemon resisted the urge to remove his sexual orientation as a topic of his book. “I think if I had seen more people like me who are out in proud, it wouldn’t have taken me 45 years to say it, to walk in the truth.”
Appearing on Joy Behar’s HLN news program last night, Lemon said, “I was born gay, just as I was born black.”
Thank you, to all of you. Your courage to live with purpose will change minds and save lives.
There is no shame in being who you are. There is no sorrow in embracing your own unique self. We all have a story to share, a journey we have traveled. Your tears and inner pain are not in vein. Until you feel strong and proud enough to share your light with the world, we’re reminded every day by these remarkable stories that it does get better.
It was also 57 years ago today that the Supreme Court ruled that separate can never be equal.