Celebration Is the Fuel That Keeps Us Moving Forward
Dear Friend of NCLR,
February 7th was a good day for the LGBT community.
I know it may surprise you to hear this, because the good news came in an unlikely form: two stories that broke in the national Sports pages.
In the first story, it was announced that NCLR client Jennifer Harris had reached a settlement in her discrimination case against Penn State and women's basketball coach Rene Portland. In the second, ESPN reported that former NBA player John Amaechi is gay and talks about his experiences as a closeted elite basketball player in a forthcoming memoir. Serendipity like this can't be predicted, nor planned for. But we owe it to ourselves to pause and celebrate it.
These are not just sports stories. These are stories about a watershed moment for our community, about brave individuals standing up for equality in sports, a culture that is, along with our military, one of the very last bastions of sanctioned homophobia in this country. These are stories about change, about progress.
We are witnesses to this change, and we are agents of it.
Good days come rarely in civil rights work and that makes them all the more precious. When they do arrive, we need to stop, take a deep breath, feel a bit of the load lifted from our shoulders and, not least of all, celebrate the work we have done.
After almost two years, Jennifer Harris settled her discrimination case, an outcome that is positive for her and for our community. Jennifer's case sparked a national dialogue about homophobia in sports. As the New York Times put it in an editorial that ran on Thursday, "with Harris's lawsuit a victory as a settlement university administrators have to be wary of the empowered athlete ready to fight against prejudice."
John Amaechi's book looks like it will offer a refreshingly candid commentary about sports culture, homophobia, and the struggles of being a closeted athlete. But perhaps more significant is the response to this news from current NBA players and coaches.
LeBron James, arguably the most talented player in the NBA, broadened the conversation when he said, "with teammates you have to be trustworthy, and if you're gay and you're not admitting that you are, then you are not trustworthy." Indeed, the coming out process challenges each of us to be more honest and to live with more integrity. Just as gay athletes need to have the courage to come out, so too do teammates and coaches need to display integrity and compassion in responding to this news.
There is no turning back now. Notice has, in effect, been served. The question, as LeBron James, NBA commissioner David Stern, and Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith have all put it, is, simply, can he, or she, play? What a relief to be judged, finally, by our abilities and our character.
Good news. Even the words make me smile. We are too used to the bad days, to flinching at the news of a hate crime, or the passage of another anti-marriage amendment, or the image of a family torn apart by the courts. When this happens, it is a body blow to all of us, a pain I feel in my gut.
But not this week. News cycles happen so quickly that we tend to think of stories like these discretely. This time, though, the pattern is clear and we need to not just recognize this moment, but to celebrate it. At NCLR, our eye is always on the long view, on that day when full equality, opportunity, and justice will be secured for all LGBT individuals. Some days, it is hard to see that day through the fog of slow progress, but today, I can see it clearly.
Our country is changing. Days like last Wednesday are proof positive of this. This victory belongs to all of us. Celebrate Harris' settlement and the resounding message it sends that discrimination has no place in sports. Celebrate Amaechi's book and the courage of a professional athlete's coming out. That celebration is the fuel that keeps us moving forward.