From Derrick Gordon to Jason Collins: Athletes show perfect timing by coming out

UMass’ Derrick Gordon may be making history as the first openly gay player in Division I men’s basketball, but when it comes to how the people that know him best reacted to the news about his sexuality, his experience is not uncommon.

Speaking with ESPN’s Kate Fagan, Gordon noted, “Everybody wasn’t surprised at all.” Before adding, “They was more like, ‘‘’Bout time you admit it.’” Many gay men can attest to this. You sit people down and get ready to reveal what you think is a surprising revelation, only to be told, “Duh, homo. Still love you, though, boo.” Or you know, some more politically correct version of the sentiment. It’s sort of like you’re Kelly Rowland on a good day, only to see Beyoncé swoop in and steal your thunder, rain, and clouds. It sucks, but at least they’re not sending you quotes from Leviticus via iMessage or whatever.

Nonetheless, although not many people in Gordon’s life found themselves shocked by his news, most relayed the sentiment, “We’re gonna support you no matter what. This doesn’t change anything.” Thanks to that, it’s also not surprising to see Gordon describe his post-news feeling as, “Awesome, actually. I honestly thought I wasn’t [gonna] feel this way until three or four years later. “

Much of that has to do with the overall shifting attitudes about homosexuality and the current push for more gay athletes to come out and break stereotypes about what it means to be gay or bisexual. Thanks to athletes like Brittney Griner coming out as a lesbian while playing at Baylor University, Michael Sam coming out shortly before entering the NFL Draft, Jason Collins becoming the first openly gay NBA player, and first transgender man to play on a NCAA Division 1 women’s basketball team, organizations have a better understanding on how to help an LGBT athlete be comfortable with themselves publicly.

Gordon said as much about Collins, explaining, “When he came out, I wanted to come out the next day. It was a relief.”

And in a written statement, UMass athletic director John McCutcheon said: “UMass is proud to have Derrick Gordon as a member of our athletic family and to honor his courage and openness as a gay student-athlete. UMass is committed to creating a welcoming climate where every student-athlete, coach and staff member can be true to themselves as they pursue their athletic, academic and professional goals.”

Gordon’s mother was equally supportive. Speaking on her son, Sandra Gordon said, “After we talked, I told him, ‘I still love you.’ I’m just happy he’s relieved of years of pain; I wish I could have done something to help, but the (support groups) knew how to help him better. She went on to say, “It’s just a blessing and I’m excited that he finally got this out. Because even when he was playing basketball, Derrick just wasn’t Derrick. Something was off. Now he can be free.”

This is why it makes sense for Derrick Gordon to come out now as opposed to several years later: He has the supportive environment he needs to feel comfortable. Such is the case for any person who wants to come out, but when it comes to the idea of being “ready,” it all depends on environment.

Gordon came out at roughly the same age as I did, though reactions were mixed. Like Gordon’s brother, there was this idea that I needed “counseling.” That points to a lingering hostility some sects of the community have towards members of the LGBT community. There are still many homeless gay youth who find themselves alone because while we collectively are seeing greater tolerance, hence children coming out younger than ever, it doesn’t mean everyone is safe to.

So yes, Derrick Gordon can come out and be rightfully giddy about his newfound freedom, but that comes with the blessing of knowing that you have people ready to fight with you if need be. That’s why he can confidently say, “I’m in a state of mind where like no word can hurt me.” Indeed, and coming out this young will spare him unnecessary headaches in the future.

He is lucky, but thankfully, him opening himself up in this way will gradually make others like him just as fortunate, too.

Michael Arceneaux is from the land of Beyoncé, but now lives in the city of Master Splinters. Follow him at @youngsinick.