Michael Sam considers Missouri "a home." After all, it was the St. Louis Rams who made history in 2014 by drafting Sam, the first openly gay man to be picked up in an NFL draft, at the end of Sam's college career at the University of Missouri, where he was named 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
But Sam isn't feeling so welcome in his adopted home state these days, as Missouri lawmakers continue to push an anti-LGBT resolution that seeks to amend the state's constitution to allow businesses and individuals to deny service to LGBT people based on "sincere religious beliefs."
In a pointed Sunday op-ed for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Sam notes that Missouri is "where I learned some of my first lessons about hard work, fairness and inclusion."
"But today, I'm deeply concerned for its future," Sam writes, before explaining why the Republican-authored Senate Joint Resolution 39 "is just another way to undermine the dignity of LGBT people and their families."
If passed by both chambers of the Republican-dominated legislature, the resolution would go on the ballot in November, asking Missouri voters to amend the state constitution to protect "certain religious organizations and individuals from being penalized by the state because of their sincere religious beliefs or practices concerning marriage between two persons of the same sex," according to the measure's text. Supporters of the proposal say it's necessary to protect the "religious liberty" of those who don't believe that people of the same sex should be able to marry, or those who don't believe in having sex before marriage.
That rationale doesn't sit well with Sam, as he explains in his op-ed:
"As an athlete who grew up in a Christian home, two things were always made clear to me: First, treat every person, every team, every competitor with respect. Second, everyone should have an equal shot and start on an equal playing field. What Missouri lawmakers are attempting to do, however, is push an anti-LGBT resolution that ensures LGBT people start at a loss. ...
"SJR 39 flies in the face of the values of sport and of fair-minded Missourians. In this great state, we all should be treated fairly and equally. Gay or straight, we all should be able to feel welcome and safe, whether we're at home, at work, at a football game, out to dinner with our families, or, yes, even planning a wedding."
Since announcing last August that he was retiring from professional football to focus on improving his mental health, Sam has been an increasingly outspoken advocate for LGBT equality and inclusion. He was the cover model for gay magazine Attitude's "All American" issue released last month and spoke pointedly to the U.K. publication about his experience with racism in the gay community, concluding that it is a more pervasive problem than homophobia in the black community.