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Speak up and speak out for Pride

On Monday, June 21, an NFL football player made a personal statement about himself and also made history in the process.

Carl Nassib, a defensive end for the Las Vegas Raiders, came out as gay in an Instagram post, making him the first active player in the professional league to do so. Several former football players have come out after their retirement in the past, but Nassib is the first one to share this part of his identity while still having an upcoming season of games to look forward to.

“I just want to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay,” Nassib said on Instagram video. “I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now, but I finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest.”

“I’m a pretty private person so I hope you guys know that I’m really not doing this for attention,” he continued. “I just think that representation and visibility are so important. I actually hope that like one day, videos like this and the whole coming-out process are just not necessary. But until then, I’m going to do my best and do my part to cultivate a culture that’s accepting, that’s compassionate.”

Nassib then pledged to donate $100,000 to The Trevor Project, which is an organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to the LGBT+ community. The NFL said the following day that they would match the donation as well.

In a slightly longer follow-up text post, Nassib explained in more detail his decision to support the work of The Trevor Project.

“Young LGBTQ kids are over 5x more likely than their straight friends to consider suicide. I feel an immense responsibility to help in any way I can – and you can too,” he said. “Studies have shown that all it takes is one accepting adult to decrease the risk of an LGBTQ kid attempting suicide by 40 percent. Whether you’re a friend, a parent, a coach, or a teammate – you can be that person.”

In college, Nassib was a walk-on who played for Penn State, and was drafted in the third-round of the 2016 NFL draft, going to the Cleveland Browns. He’s also played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before he went to his current team in Nevada.

The reaction to Nassib’s comments has been positive overall. ESPN reported that Nassib’s Raiders jersey was the top-selling item across the league just a day after his announcement. Plenty of teammates and other people associated with the NFL made public statements of support.

I saw plenty of those positive statements myself just browsing through tweets from the few sports reporters I follow on Twitter. But I think the words which felt the most poignant came from John Amaechi, a former basketball player and fellow gay athlete, in an interview on the Dan LeBatard Show.

“There is a young person watching him (Nassib) right now who has walked to school lighter, even if they have disclosed nothing about themselves. They have walked to school with a greater sense of hope today… That is a good thing,” Amaechi said.

Amaechi’s words point to the importance of representation. Young people who are just figuring out their identity can feel hopeful as they see the support Nassib received when he made his announcement.

Of course, Nassib isn’t the first athlete who’s ever come out. And he certainly won’t be the last one either. But to plenty of young LGBT+ people seeing the news, it’s just another sign that they’re not alone. Especially in the world of sports, where negative stereotypes and all-too-prevalent homophobia can discourage LGBT+ people from pursuing their dreams or force them to live in a way that stifles themselves.

There are still people out there who might say things like “he should keep these kinds of announcements to himself. We don’t want to hear it.” There are always people out there who want the LGBT+ community to remain quiet. But gay people have always been around. Bisexual people have always been around. Transgender people have always been around. Asexual people and gender nonconforming people have always been around.

Discrimination and hatred will not make them disappear. It has never made them disappear.

Like any problem in our society (homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, etc), it will not go away by plugging your ears and pretending it doesn’t exist. More people need to speak up and speak out.

So congratulations to Carl Nassib for taking a step forward to help an underrepresented group of people like himself.

June is Pride month, a celebration of the entire LGBT+ community. But even though the month is drawing to a close, LGBT+ people out there will continue on living their lives as usual for the other eleven months of the year too. And they deserve to live just as anyone else does, free from hatred and discrimination.

I feel confident that we’re getting a little bit closer to that reality each day.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.