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Gay Courage

On a freezing cold early February morning, recently, the national news media announced that a rough tough college football player, headed for the NFL, had come out, boldly announcing that he's gay.  My first thought was, "yeah so?"  But then I realized that to the happy hetero world of national sports, this news was kind of a final frontier.  We will know that we have achieved full equality when everyone says, "yeah so?"  Still, at first, I couldn't stop myself from yawning in boredom about it.  So, I thought, "now football fans will find themselves confused and conflicted as they shout inebriated at their huge HD TV screens.  OMG! Should they "cheer for the Queer?"  Just imagine their angst!  Some of these fine folks still haven't gotten over other minority participation in national sports.  So now they'll choke on their buffalo wings, flummoxed, fulminating, ferblungert and ferklemt, oy vey!

And then, in late February came the national news of a gay basketball player!  He's been signed for a 'Ten Day Contract!' OMG!  Will the sun even rise tomorrow?  Naturally, the news media went to a local bar near the stadium where he's to play and asked 'typical' imbiber sports fans what they thought of it all.  Maybe it was early in the evening before they had too much to drink to get loose lipped; but those who might have had something negative to say seemed to have had the sober wisdom to bow out of doing that on TV.  So, there were 'neutral' opinions only by those who said something like, "so long as he scores (hoops) they could care less about how he lives his life."  Lovely, progressive! I think.

Still this really IS PROGRESS!  I mean, not a single sports commentator or news jockey even thought or dared to mention that both of these fine American athletes are Black.   It was not that long ago in our short American history that THAT would have been, and was, the Big News.  The racial integration of professional sports in America came in 1947, a year before President Harry S. Truman integrated our armed forces by Executive Order, and nearly twenty years before civil rights were enshrined into law by Congress with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  It was not that long ago that news media would not even consider reporting 'unmentionable gay news.'  Gay news was 'unfit for family consumption' in newspapers an on TV, no matter what it was about.  Now suddenly the local and national news and sports media are babbling excitedly about these two gay guys in excruciatingly politically correct language and beaming with pride.  As my old uncle used to sarcastically say about social progress, "That's Nice!"

But seriously, if we are good enough to serve and sacrifice in combat for our country, then we're surely good enough to earn a few million dollars entertaining sports fans by playing football and basketball.  Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender American patriots have volunteered and served and sacrificed in our armed forces since Lieutenant General Freidrich Von Steuben trained the Continental Army at Valley Forge in 1778.  LGBT patriots served in WWII, Vietnam, Korea, the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and now still in Afghanistan.  THAT is news!  That is courage!  In 1975, my friend Air Force Tech Sgt Leonard Matlovich came out in a public letter to the Secretary of the Air Force.  He was on the cover of Time Magazine in uniform with the huge headline, "I am a homosexual."  He didn't fit the false standard stereotype of 'the sissy faggot' skulking around the the shadows; he was a Vietnam War hero with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.  He looked every bit like the brave military sergeant that his was: tall, mustachioed, ruggedly handsome, and serious.  And so they dared to present him as he was to the American public.  I can tell you, he was for real.  Sacrificing his twelve year military career for the cause of our freedom, after having sacrificed his body and nearly his life in combat in Vietnam, took incredible courage.  It was real news, big news.

So, now, all these decades later, after so many brave men and women who served our nation in uniform came out publicly for our freedom, after so many died or were disabled in combat, after the 'sturm und drang' of the repeal of DADT and DOMA, after the battle for the right to marry was won in some eighteen states with more on the way, after all that, I'm a bit wearied to see that a couple of gay professional athletes coming out makes the news media salivate over 'big news' with their eyes popping and leering out of their heads.  Sigh!  I can hardly wait for the first transgender football player to come out; the news media will piss in their pants in leering excitement to scoop each other on that story.

I want to shout, "Get over it!"

All that is not to say that the two athletes are not courageous; they are!  They open themselves to homophobic cursing and blame if their team looses a few games.  They stand to loose out on commercial endorsement contracts and cereal boxes portraying 'clean' American heroes.  And yet, that basketball player's jerseys, featuring a number memorializing Matthew Shepherd, was the top seller on the NBA website in late February (the proceeds were donated to LGBT groups by the NBA.)  And then there's sports trading cards.  I'm told that it was nearly a decade after black American athletes were integrated into pro sports teams that trading cards were finally made portraying them.

And that leads to the interesting question of 'why there are no trading cards portraying American military heroes?'  Seriously; they could start with Medal of Honor recipients!  During our service years, we heard about "Solider of the Month" and "Sailor of the Year," and similar recognition for standing out.  Some LGBT service members even received those honors.  But, outside the insular world of our armed forces communities, we have been largely invisible.  How many kids trade cards picturing Purple Heart awardees who also hold the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry?  If our professional sports heroes get that kind of recognition, why not our nation's patriots who were willing to sacrifice for our freedom?

In discussing this issue with other LGBT military activists, someone said, "Not all courage is created equal."  Think about that for a moment.  How can you compare pro sports players with those who patriotically volunteered to serve our country in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan?  And yet, Jackie Robinson regularly received death threats, and gay service members were actually killed by their own fellow soldiers and sailors.  So, perhaps courage is courage no matter who, how, and where it happens.  Its something to think about.

2014 GayMilitarySignal