Michael Sam made history yesterday as the first Division I college football player ever to come out as gay. The defensive lineman from the University of Missouri spoke publicly about his sexual orientation, and could potentially become the first openly gay player in the National Football League. The 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and first-team all-SEC selection during his senior year wanting to "own his own truth" is an important moment for black, gay men.
The truth about "coming out" stories is that black, gay men need to hear them. We need to see queer people of color celebrating their truths and journeys. These vignettes serve as friendly reminders that this "gay thing" isn't a phase or something exclusive to white Americans.
If Sam wanted to share his sexuality with us, let him. Negating his story is telling him that he doesn't matter, and trivializes being open about one's sexuality. I hate to see people police what a person should or shouldn't share. More importantly, I despise seeing gay men decide this isn't news or worthy of much attention. Gay is far from being normalized, so don't believe the hype. It's not the new (or old) black; it's just gay. Some would argue sexuality is overrated and exclusive; however, in a world where gays are treated as second-class citizens, sexuality is everything but synonymous to those two abstruse conditions.
Any time an athlete, entertainer or prominent person in the spotlight comes out, there seems to be a sigh of "finally." This consolation goes to not only show that we need more examples, but also how hard it is for gays to navigate this thing called life. Gays are still being beaten and ostracized for what goes on in their bedrooms. There are still laws condoning violence against those who live in their truths; some are even incarcerated or stoned to death. Children are still going to school confronting bullies and being taunted daily. When people are taking their own lives to avoid the pressure of abandonment from so-called loved ones and family members, these stories matter.
There is a deep sense of pride that I'm filled with in seeing more blacks proclaim their truth on their own terms, versus us pulling them out of closets we've created time and time again. Being the editor-in-chief of MUSED Magazine Online, an award-winning website for "modern" black, gay men, I'm tasked as a gatekeeper to share and curate stories from my peers and allies. When I first launched the site, I made it my responsibility to create this space where black gay men are comfortable with engaging in dialogue that celebrates and challenges who we are. There are so few publications that truly respect and represent these challenges and triumphs of black gay men and our experiences.
As a practicing black, gay male myself, I can easily become exhausted by the number of LGBTQ members who are celebrated that don't look like me. There comes a feeling that I don't exist. I'm not slim, blonde or have blue eyes. To see Sam, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound black man, share his story only hits closer to home because there is a spark of familiarity. I enjoy seeing black, gay men in headlines outside of "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" sound bites because it is refreshing. Far too often stories are told through the lens of white gay men, so equating this lifestyle to a race isn't a reach.
Last week we also learned that President Barack Obama nominated a replacement for federal judge, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Darrin Gayles. Like his previous attempt with Judge William Thomas that was blocked, he also happens to be an openly black, gay man. I'm thrilled to learn more about black, gay men who are doing positive things. On that same token, I easily become offended when someone says we should not care or deem Sam's announcement as "news."
What critics tend to forget is that exposure is key, and fortunately this movement is picking up much needed steam in the black community as we can see more brown faces who are gay. Sam joins the list of other prominent athletes who have recently come out, like Jason Collins, Orlando Cruz and Brittney Griner.
Although studies will lead you to think otherwise, prejudice against gay men, no matter their ethnicity, is still widespread. Coming out is never easy, and probably never will be with the continued unconstructive stigmas and attitudes towards gays.
As a black gay man, I am aware of the possible consequences and rewards for broadcasting one's sexuality. Using this awareness, we have a responsibility to our own community to foster an environment where people feel comfortable sharing -- or not. Moments like Sam's announcement helps keep the conversation going on.
I genuinely applaud Sam's brave decision in a traditionally homophobic culture to live openly and authentically at the heels of his professional football career. Living your truth might be easy for you, but not for the next man. Many times we can unknowingly force ourselves and our views on people without them being in a place to receive them because we aren't in that space. When people want to share, we should stop, listen and not chastise.
Thank you Michael Sam for your courage in sharing your truth. In a society where black gay men are often stereotyped and caricatures, I celebrate your bravery and will continue to do so with anyone else who will stand up.