On Monday, former Washington Wizards center Jason Collins revealed to the world that he is gay, prompting a complete media meltdown. Collins appeared on Good Morning America; he made the cover of Sports Illustrated; he became the lead on Huffington Post. The president of the United States congratulated him at a press conference, and the former president of the United States congratulated him via Twitter. So did the first lady, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association and a bevy of pundits and athletes across the spectrum.
Which leaves one question: What's the big deal?
Tennis star Martina Navratilova, the best player of her era, came out in 1981. Ellen Degeneres came out on national television in 1997. The president and CEO of the Golden State Warriors, Rick Welts, is openly gay. Top politicians, rock stars, athletes, movie and television stars and business moguls are gay. Gay Americans have been announcing their sexual orientation for decades. Why the hubbub?
The media announced that Collins was a hero because he had provided hope to millions of gay male teens. There is some credibility to that argument. But there is another, more powerful aftertaste from the media's champagne party for Collins: The bitter feeling that America is a nasty place, so nasty that we require overwhelming shows of support for people who just want to live their lives. When the media labels Collins another Jackie Robinson, that not only does massive injustice to Robinson, it implies that America of 2013 is to sexuality what America of 1947 was to race. That is not only ignorant. It is tremendously harmful.
The hubbub from the media assumes that America is a massively homophobic place -- a place where people like Collins must regularly fear for their lives, are forced not to participate in the private sexual activities they choose and face routine discrimination. There is certainly discrimination against gays in American society, but it is by far the exception rather than the rule. On average, gay couples earn significantly more money per year than straight couples do ($94,000 versus $86,000). Gay couples are more educated than straight couples (46 percent of gay couples have both gone to college, compared with less than one third of straight couples). Unemployment is lower among gays than straights. There is no law in any state in America that gays cannot live together or engage in consensual activity of any sort. There is no law in any state in America preventing contractual provisions for inheritance, hospital visitation and the like.