I had an interesting experience recently, while teaching my public speaking class. A student in one of my classes stood up in front of the class to do his informative speech and surprised everyone, including me, with what he had to say.
He stood in front of a roomful of peers and did something I am sure was terrifying – he came out of the closet.
He started by writing a word on the board – GAY. He then proceeded to tell us that he is gay and tried to inform us a little about what that was like for him. He described some of his feelings and some of what he’s experienced from others.
I was blown away by what I was watching – I know many people who have come out and I know how much they struggled to do so and how gut-wrenching it was for many of them. It was an amazingly brave thing to do and I wasn’t exactly sure how to react.
I also was not exactly sure how to grade his speech. He was doing this for a grade and his actual delivery and organization was not spectacular, most likely because this was a last-minute decision on his part and he had not completely thought it through. I managed to separate my personal admiration for the topic from my critique of his public speaking skills and came up with a score. But I made sure to contact him via email after the speech to express my admiration and explain that my grading had nothing to do with the content, which he said later he understood.
He was actually very thankful for my email and said that he was glad he gave the speech. He got the reception he hoped for – no one was upset or disgusted and after a brief round of congratulations from his table mates, everyone went back to their work and nothing more was said. No one freaked out and he felt accepted and relieved.
This happened about the same time as GLAAD’s Spirit Day. I saw purple around the internet and saw videos and pictures being passed around on Facebook. I was also reminded of the “You Can Play Project,” which is a program designed to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender athletes feel accepted and welcome in sports. All of this made me reflect on how difficult is must be to have a secret that you don’t think you can share. How scary it must be to think that people, even your own family, might shun you or cause you physical harm because of who you are. How isolating and stressful it must feel to live a life that is not completely open and honest.
My husband and I have worked hard to make sure that our son understands that everyone is unique and that is okay. We have introduced all types of families to him – divorced, not married, two moms, two dads, single parents – and explained that there is nothing wrong with any of them. He does still react a bit when he hears of same sex couples – when Abby Wambaugh recently got married, for example, he seemed a little startled when I told him how she now had a wife. But I explained it as I would any marriage and he seemed to accept that and move on.
I can only hope that when he encounters a teammate who is gay, he receives him or her just as he would any other teammate – with acceptance and an expectation that this teammate will give his or her best, just as is expected of everyone on the team. I hope that he will give it no more thought than that and respond with a simple “okay” and a “let’s play.”
Because I do believe that if you can play, you can play. As long as you are not trying to hurt anyone else or cause anyone else harm (physical, emotional, or psychological), then you are welcome in any locker room or on any sideline, anytime, anywhere. That, of course, goes for everyone on the team – the rules are the same for all as are the expectations.
I am thankful to my student who had the courage to come out to his class. He gave me a lot to think about all. I just hope that someday it won’t be necessary because it just won’t be an issue. It just won’t matter.
So, if you can learn, you can learn. If you can teach, you can teach. If you can research, you can research. If you can build, you can build. And if you can play, you can play.
Now, get out there and play!