This essay was written before the Supreme Court ruled on DOMA and Prop. 8.
"Have you talked to Jason Collins yet? BIG news..." a friend texted to me on the day the NBA player came out. It was big news. But by the time I got the text, I had known about it for a while; I had been tipped off by another friend who travels in professional sports circles and who just happens to be gay.
That friend had texted me very early that morning, writing, "Big day for people like us." I knew right away, even before I dialed his cell phone, what he was going to tell me. I was on location in Boston covering the marathon bombings. I had very little spare time, but I had to know who it was. He answered and barely got out a "hello" when I blurted out, "OK, spill it. Who is it?" He laughed, swore me to secrecy until the Sports Illustrated story was published, and then we were silent for moment.
I admitted to him that I didn't really know who Jason Collins was. He filled me in, and we both agreed that it didn't really matter that Collins wasn't a household name. Neither was I when I came out just two years ago, in 2011. What mattered was that Collins was doing it before leaving the sport. And it didn't go unnoticed by either of us that the person breaking this barrier was a black man, who in a matter of hours was about to become a double minority.
Collins started his coming-out article by writing: "I'm black. And I'm gay." Recently, politician Kelvin Atkinson came out by saying, "I'm black. I'm gay." And when I revealed my truth, I wrote and said, "I was born gay just as I was born black."
No, we all didn't call each other for advice. What each of us knows is that as black men, we automatically feel like we are "other." It's not by any fault of our own. It's because society offers up myriad and constant reminders of our otherness every single day. Whether it's someone handing you their car keys at valet parking or refusing to board an elevator with you alone, being followed by a security guard at a store, or being overlooked at work, it's always there.
We — black men — are always reminded that we are black. And if we happen to be gay, it's yet another reminder that we are different. So in order to keep our sanity and dignity, we embrace it, sometimes even laugh at it. I'm black and I'm gay. So what? Deal with it! And we keep moving forward, proudly away from the darker alternative of becoming bitter and angry. We also say I'm black and gay because we want our own people to support us and know that we were born gay just as surely as we were born black. And because the church has such a strong influence on our community, we want our churchgoing, God-fearing black brethren to know that despite what the church tells them, God doesn't make mistakes. Nor does he judge.
While coming out while black may be tougher for men of color, coming out is rarely easy for anyone. But in just the two years since I did it, things have changed tremendously for gay people. As I write this, same-sex marriage is legal in 12 states and the District of Columbia. It's being considered in a number of other places, including no less than the U.S. Supreme Court. These days, it seems absurd that anyone would want to deny civil and human rights to anyone.
On the day Collins came out, the friend who texted me to ask if I had "talked to Jason Collins yet" also wrote: "We are living in times I never dreamed about as a kid. Beyond awesome." I agree.
Don Lemon is the host of the prime-time weekend edition of CNN Newsroom.
More In This Series
Black, LGBT, American: A Search for Sanctuaries
Don Lemon: A Sense of Otherness
Wanda Sykes: On Being Real
Laverne Cox: Threat or Threatened
Twiggy Garcon: Ballroom at 14
Doug Spearman: Breaking the Code
Janora McDuffie: My Obligation
Aaron Walton: Angelic Troublemakers
Editor's Letter: Black and LGBT in America