Are Perceptions Changing About Youth-Athletes Coming Out as Gay?
Two years ago this month, Jason Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran, came out as gay, becoming the first active athlete in a major American professional sport to do so. Last April, University of Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon became the first active Division I men's basketball player to come out, citing his desire to "give kids some courage" as part of the reason why he did so.
"When kids aren't able to come out, I know why," Gordon told Outsports' Cyd Zeigler at the time. "It's a scary thing. That's one of the reasons I'm doing this. I want to give kids some courage and someone they can look up to. If I can come out and play basketball, then why can't they do it? I want to be able to help those people."
On Wednesday, Zeigler posted a story about Dalton Maldonado, a Kentucky high school basketball player who came out as gay following a game in December after an opponent taunted him, saying, "Hey, No. 3, I hear you're a faggot." The details only grew more harrowing from there:
After collecting their clothes and bags the team headed to the bus, where some of the opposing team had assembled. They were yelling at the "faggot," ordering him to stay out of the bus and face them. When Maldonado boarded, the opposing team proceeded to pound the nearest window of the bus with their fists as they yelled more gay slurs. When a couple opposing players tried to board the bus to get to him, Maldonado's teammates and coaches forced them back. Once the Betsy Lane team was inside, the bus pulled away.
The opposing team wasn't done. Several of the players got in their cars and pursued the bus. Whether they actually wanted to assault Maldonado or not, they certainly wanted to scare the hell out of him.
According to FreedomToMarry.org, just 33 percent of Kentucky's population is in support of gay marriage. Though that's a dramatic increase from a decade ago, when only 21 percent of the state's population was supportive of gay marriage, many in the state clearly remain opposed to the idea.
However, Maldonado's teammates at Betsy Lane High School used the confrontation as a rallying point.
"The other starting four even asked me to move into their room on the trip after this," Maldonado told Outsports. "This brought us closer together, and after this trip I felt more close to them than I felt in my whole life.
"To this day I haven't lost a friend over coming out," he continued. "I've actually become closer to them. In fact, the one person in my school and on my team I was scared to tell sung the song 'Same Love' to me as he told me he would always be here for me and was proud of me.
Outsports did not reveal which team taunted Maldonado because the school currently on spring break, so its principal and athletic director were unavailable to comment. However, all four of Betsy Lane's opponents were allowed to continue on in the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic tournament in which they were participating, suggesting that the offending team avoided punishment for its harassment of him. (According to Outsports, said opponent beat Betsy Lane by 32. Some quick detective work reveals the offender.)
With concerns about Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act dominating headlines this week—Indiana lawmakers announced Thursday that sexual orientation and gender identity would be "explicitly protected" in the new law, according to The Indianapolis Star—much work remains in terms of making LGBT student-athletes feel safe enough to come out.
However, every Jason Collins, Derrick Gordon and Dalton Maldonado—all of whom have received an outpouring of support from teammates and others—may only make things easier on future LGBT student-athletes.
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