Growing up gay in small town America, with family members, classmates and even some teachers who often spoke with ignorant, visceral hate for homosexuals left me with deep and everlasting scars. Scars which have lasted a lifetime and are ripped open every time a public figure, even one so minor as Chris Culliver, insults me, my sexual orientation and my entire community just because he’s never taken the time to try and understand or get to know someone like me.
Chris Culliver’s comments were more than hurtful though. What he did, when he said “We ain’t got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up out here. Can’t be with that sweet stuff. … Nah, can’t be … in the locker room man,” was to reenforce every gay person’s biggest fear. He let us all know that despite the progress we have made, there are still plenty of places where we are not welcome; places where we are not safe. What Chris Culliver did was further damage the psyche of so many people who are already tortured. What he did, was force some boy in Omaha, some girl in Bakersfield and probably some teammate or opponent in the NFL to scurrying back into the closet for cover.
Years ago San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk urged gay people from across the nation and around the world to ‘come out of the closet’ because he knew then what I know today. Our biggest obstacle to equal rights IS that damn imaginary closet where we hide because we don’t think we are welcome in all segments of society. Because of that, thousands of people don’t know that we work and play and love beside them every day. Thousands of people don’t realize that they have known and loved, been related to and possibly given birth to one or more gay people in their lives. Thousands of people don’t know that an entire community is tortured by their incomprehensible judgement.
What Chris Culliver did, with one thoughtless, ignorant statement, is take away more than one person’s courage to come out of the closet and to live a truly happy life. Chris Culliver and the 49ers have a Super Bowl to play this weekend. But once that is over, he and the entire 49ers organization will have to do more than issue a half-hearted, poorly-worded apology to clean up this mess. Sadly, the damage has already been done to that boy in Omaha, the girl in Bakersfield and the fellow NFL football player. No apology is believable enough to make those people trust that they are welcome in his world.
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