Recent events in Orlando reveal a changing climate of acceptance of LGBT and our struggle for respect and equality. And no, I am not looking through the emblematic rose colored glasses when viewing the landscape of tolerance. There are still people out there who wish us harm and we still have many more minds to alter before we can claim success in the fight for equality. However, two events which, while occurring without much fanfare, are reflective of our changing environment.
The world learned the name Jason Collins almost a year ago when he announced that he was gay at the conclusion of the NBA season. Much was made about this revelation including gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated and other historical sports magazine covers. After waiting out part of the season as a free agent, Jason got his chance as a role player with the Brooklyn Nets. Located under the microscope called New York City, with a rabid but knowledgeable fan base, many expected Jason to succumb to the pressures that have diminished many athletes over the years. However, he was assigned a particular role, concentrated on his game rather than the numerous interview requests and now he is the part of a team that is expected to qualify for the NBQA playoffs.
Jason’s daring action had already been designated the catalyst that encouraged University of Missouri Defensive End Michael San to announce that he was gay prior to the NFL draft. Then on Wednesday morning, the sports headlines revealed that a sophomore basketball player for the University of Massachusetts announced that he was gay after revealing his secret to his family, coaches and teammates days earlier. A starting guard in all the games this season, Derrick Gordon is slated to be a team leader for the next two years.
Gordon said the key moment for him was when the Nets signed Jason to a contract with the team. In response Jason Collins tweeted his support :
A few hours after that tweet, Jason was warming up on the basketball court inside the Amway Arena, preparing to play against the Orlando Magic. The Center worked with the Orlando Magic to secure discounted seating so a contingent from The Center could attend to watch the first openly gay player take the court in Orlando. Unexpectedly, it was a very close game and Orlando was holding a narrow lead in the final minutes and it was evident that Jason would not take the court. However, the Nets coach called Jason from the bench and he did enter the game to provide defensive and rebounding support. And what happened at that historic moment? Nothing. He ran onto the court and performed his role as a basketball player – not as a gay savior or future sports icon. And the skies did not open up nor did lightning strike the Amway . The crowd did not cheer nor boo. It was uneventful ….. and that brought a lump to my throat. The unassuming reaction of player and fans was such a deafening response to our bid for acceptance. Sometimes maybe we misunderstand the public and what we consider a big deal is not so big to them anymore. And that was a wonderful lesson to learn.
The second event was held just down the street of the Amway Arena some 13 hours later on Church Street. Mayor Buddy Dyer gave his State of the City speech to a large and enthusiastic crowd, using the SunRail trains as a back drop to this event. Immersed in the crowd was several leaders of the LGBT community including Mary Meek, Ron Legler, Zach Murray, Mikael Audebert, Carlos Carbonell and Commissioner Patty Sheehan to name a few. The mayor spoke on how perseverance brought about the Amway Arena, Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center, a newly restored Citrus Bowl and now the SunRail light rail system.
Perseverance also had a great part in his announcement about diversity in Orlando. “ The fabric of our city is a mix of ethnicities, cultures and religions,” Dyer said. “A vibrant welcoming community attracts the kind of industries and talent our city needs. “ The Mayor proudly stated that the City of Orlando was one of the first in Florida to adopt an effective Domestic Partner Registry and went a step further when he joined a chorus of major city mayors in expressing his support for Marriage Equality. “ One day I hope we are the city that hosts the state’s first same-sex marriage, Love and commitment should be encouraged, celebrated and embraced as a constitutional right for all.”. Some of the loudest cheers and applause occurred upon making such statement.
While those are two short sentences, do not seem important to many citizens in Orlando, they speak volumes as to where the LGBT Community is today. This too was the result of perseverance by many of the LGBT leaders in attendance. For years, many of us have been waiting to hear the mayor make such a public proclamation and we extremely pleased when he actually come out – for marriage equality.
Two individuals…. One black, one white…… cast a shadow of equality across Church Street and Orlando in a matter of a few hours. I am proud to have witnessed both – one unassumingly in the present, the other with a vision toward the future, but both warmly embraced by the community.