The following came in a June 9 email from Randy Engle, author of The Rite of Sodomy, concerning a May 28 column by Father Gerald Coleman on the announcement by Jason Collins that he was gay.
Engle: “Since when does an individual who publicly states that he embraces a vice that cries out to heaven for vengeance deserve to be “supported and respected.” Mr. Collins, the poor soul, needs our prayers for his conversion, not an acceptance of his vice which, if not repented of, will open the gates of hell and consume the sodomite for eternity.”
Included in the email was a copy of the Coleman column:
National Basketball Association veteran center Jason Collins and professional soccer player Robbie Rogers recently announced they are gay. Some commentators called these revelations “pedestrian” and “extremely normal” as this same scene is played out millions of times in homes, families and workplaces across the world.
Collins, a Stanford University graduate, decided to tell his story in a thoughtful and dispassionate first-person narrative in the May 6 issue of Sports Illustrated. He did not glamorize his decision or elevate himself above those who opt to make a different choice. He said that “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.” He named his announcement as a “journey of self-discovery and self-acknowledgment” and indicated that he wanted to be “genuine, authentic, and truthful.”
Collins first revealed himself to his aunt Teri, a Superior Court judge in San Francisco. Her supportive response brought him “relief ” and finally “comfort- able in my own skin.” Teri simply responded with love: “I’ve known you were gay for years.” When he told his brother Jarron, he was “downright astounded” but “full of brotherly love.”
Each time he tells his story, he feels stronger. He wrote, “When I acknowledged my sexuality, I felt whole for the first time.” Collins believes that he has finally “embraced the puzzle that is me (but) I don’t let my race define me anymore than I want my sexual orientation to.” He concluded, “Being gay is not a choice. This is a tough road and at times the lonely road (but) being genuine and honest makes me happy. I’m glad I can stop hiding.”
Collins feels that he forged solidarity with other gay people by wearing jersey number 98 with the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards. In 1998, in a contemptible anti-gay crime, Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, tortured and lashed to a prairie fence. He died five days after he was found. The Trevor Project was founded this same year, an organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to kids struggling with their sexual identity. Collins said that “when I put on my jersey I was making a statement to myself, my family, and my friends.”
Robbie Rogers’ announcement mirrors in many ways the unadorned story by Collins. Rogers comes from a close-knit conservative Catholic family. An American soccer player, he represented the U.S. 18 times in the Olympics, including the 2008 games in Beijing. Entitled “The Next Chapter,” he made his announcement via a heartfelt, crisp entry on his blog. He wrote, “For the past 25 years I have been afraid to show who I really was because of fear that judgment and rejection would hold me back from my dreams and aspirations.”
On an emotional level, he wrote, “Try convincing yourself that your creator has the most wonderful purpose for you even though you were taught differently.”
He feared that those closest to him would abandon him if they knew his secret. He then writes, “Life is simple when your secret is gone. Gone is the pain that lurks in the stomach at work, the pain from avoiding questions, and at last the pain from hiding such a deep secret.” At age 25, he retired from professional soccer on Feb. 15. He wrote, “It’s time to discover myself away from soccer.”
Rogers blogged that “secrets can cause so much internal damage. I always thought I could hide this secret. Soccer was my escape, my purpose, my identity. My secret is now gone (and) I am a free man.” He wrote that he realized he was gay when he was about 14 years old and felt he was an “outcast … I just couldn’t tell anyone because high school in the states is brutal. You’re going through puberty and kids can be vicious.”
When Rogers told his mother, “she made me cry (as) she was so loving and positive. She just said, ‘I love you so much.’”
In “Always Our Children” (1997), the U.S. bishops wrote that same-sex attraction “cannot be considered sinful, for morality presumes the freedom to choose. God loves every person as a unique individual. Sexual identity helps to define the unique persons we are, and one component of our sexual identity is sexual orientation.”
When a person chooses to reveal that he or she is gay/ lesbian, sometimes at great personal risk, that person deserves the respect and support of others. Speaking the truth about one’s sexual identity is consonant with, and not opposed to, a life of integrity and faith. No one should be pressured to reveal his or her sexual orientation, but no one should be ashamed to do so either.
Collins and Rogers received an overwhelming amount of positive and supportive responses. They also received negative reaction. Writing in USA Today, NBA insider Chris Broussard translated the Collins/Rogers announcements as approval of “an openly homosexual lifestyle.” He cites the Bible and concludes that openly living such a lifestyle “is a sin … If you’re living in unrepentant sin, I think that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ.” The Christian Science Monitor wrote that these announcements will “likely put wind in the sails of the trend of acceptance of gay rights in U.S. public opinion.”
These reactions demonstrate the moral and pastoral necessity to distinguish support and respect for gay and lesbian persons and an automatic approval of an agenda that avows the overturn of the traditional meaning of marriage by support of same-sex marriage. The church teaches that homosexual persons exist and deserve our respect and support. In the case of Collins and Rogers, courage defeated fear, acceptance trumped self-doubt, and truth overcame shame.
These achievements can be duplicated by our acceptance of homosexual persons and our understanding of the burden they bear when their sexual identity is jeopardized due to fear, rejection or violence.
SULPICIAN FATHER COLEMAN is vice president, corporate ethics for the Daughters of Charity Health System.