In a profoundly simple way, NBA veteran Jason Collins became the first active player in one of the four major U.S. professional sports to come out as gay. Collins said, "I'm a 34 year old NBA Center. I'm black. And I'm gay" in a first-person article posted on April 29 on Sports' Illustrated website.
Collins said in the article that he had "endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie."
Collins' coming out drew extraordinary support, including calls from President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton, current and former NBA teammates and athletes from other sports.
Billie Jean King, International Tennis Hall of Fame member and tennis legend said to the Associated Press in phone interview about Collins' coming out: "We've got to get rid of the shame. That's the main thing. And Jason's going to help that. He's going to help give people courage to come out. I guarantee you he's going to feel much lighter, more freer. The truth does set you free, there's no question. It doesn't mean it's easy. But it sets you free."
When I heard Billie Jean King's comments about Jason's coming out, I thought of his life, her life, my life and all of our lives. King is right. In King's words to and about Jason, I hear the echo of Jesus' teaching: "And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32)
It might not always be easy, but when we tell the truth of our lives, we are set free.
Those of us who are God's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children do know something about the "truth setting us free" when we come to understand, accept and celebrate that we are part of God's good creation, too.
We know the liberation that accompanies the truth-telling of coming out, of telling the truth of our lives: who we are, whom we've fallen in love with and the persons who are our family of choice. We claim our faith, accept God's grace and love equally alongside our heterosexual sisters and brothers.
Of course, navigating the persistent but slowly dying homophobia in both church and society is not always easy landscape to walk.
King is correct: we must get rid of the shame still associated with being LGBT in both church and society. Sadly, it is often the Church that is the source of shame. However, we've clearly reached a tipping point in the Church as more of us come out and more people come to understand human sexuality and gender identity.
The final word, of course, is the truth of God's love and grace; and the truth of our lives does set us free.
Thank you, Jason Collins, for coming out on this global stage. We give thanks for your leadership on and off the court.
Jason, may you thrive in this new freedom and may all of us be set free in God's love and grace.
Thanks be to God.
Photo via flickr by Håkan Dahlström