The recent news that NBA center Jason Collins is gay was greeted with widespread attention and acceptance. In a measure of just how much public opinion has shifted, the 34-year-old Collins was lauded for his courage in coming out of the closet as the first openly gay professional athlete in this country. Collins even received a call from President Obama.
Most agreed this is a good thing for professional sports. More important, it is a good thing for young gay people struggling with their own sexuality. Hopefully, Collins’ announcement will help save lives. Gay rights advocates claim gay and lesbian teens are three to four times as likely to commit suicide as their straight counterparts.
The Trevor Project, a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning young people under 24, weighed in on the announcement:
“For nearly 15 years, The Trevor Project has heard from young people all over the country who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning. Too often, they struggle with accepting who they are, or helping the important people in their life love, understand and accept them. Coming out is a brave thing to do for anyone because of the prejudice, fear and hate that too often confront LGBTQ people for being who they are. Today’s public announcement by NBA veteran center Jason Collins that he is gay is an important step in professional sports and makes a great deal of positive difference for his young and impressionable fans…”
As Collins told Sports Illustrated, his announcement impacts most families:
“Some people insist they’ve never met a gay person. But Three Degrees of Jason Collins dictates that no NBA player can claim that anymore. Pro basketball is a family. And pretty much every family I know has a brother, sister or cousin who’s gay. In the brotherhood of the NBA, I just happen to be the one who’s out.”
In an interview with New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, Collins described how difficult it was to conceal who he was:
“It’s tough to live a lie. It’s really tough: I describe it as you know the sky is blue but you tell yourself it’s red. It’s an insane logic. It’s tough to continue to live with lies and half-truths. It weighs on you. You put on a mask, but at the end of the day you’re not happy telling yourself a lie over and over again to the point where I am now being honest and truthful and not having to have a censor button; it’s liberating.”
“Coming out” isn’t just healthy, necessary, and liberating for gay people; everyone else benefits as well. Lies are destructive, not only to the person telling them, but also to everyone else who becomes collateral damage. For example, Carolyn Moos, who had an eight-year relationship with Collins, told TMZ that she had no idea that he was gay. His former fiancée said she never suspected at all, and she could not understand why he broke up with her.
“It’s very emotional for me as a woman to have invested [eight] years in my dream to have a husband, soul mate, and best friend in him,” she said. “So this is all hard to understand.”
Hopefully, she will now go on with her life and find a husband, soul mate and best friend. But despite her shock and heartbreak, she added that she wants Collins to be true to himself, and wishes the best for him.
I suspect that is what most people who love someone who is gay – boyfriend, girlfriend, brother, sister, child, niece, nephew, cousin, or friend — would want for them. If they only knew! It’s time to open all of the closets for the emotional health of everyone in the family.
George Will, the conservative pundit, once said that to his children’s generation, sexual orientation is no more consequential than eye color.
Perhaps with honesty, love, forgiveness, acceptance and understanding, that day is not too far off.
Now that the 2012 Presidential Campaign is over and the people have spoken, it’s time to move ahead. Our country faces overwhelming economic challenges and looming deadlines, including a “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and severe spending cuts, a spiraling national debt, and huge annual deficits. There are also weighty international challenges, including Iran, Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan and China, to name just a few.
Voters re-elected President Obama at the same time that they endorsed a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and a Democratic majority in the Senate. After the election, President Obama offered to meet with his challenger, Gov. Mitt Romney, while Romney said he and his wife Ann were praying for the President. Congressional leaders also extended the olive branch and expressed a desire to work together. Let’s hope that this is not mere lip service and is followed up by prompt and meaningful actions.
Voters exercised their responsibility to go to the polls. They did so in a dignified and patient manner, at times enduring hours of waiting time. Even victims of Hurricane Sandy, who had lost their homes and possessions, still found a way to cast their ballots. Citizens ought to continue to exercise their responsibility by following up on those they elected. They should call, write, and email them and not only let them know where they stand on issues, but also that they expect them to pursue their agendas in a civil and respectful manner. The press also has a responsibility to stop focusing on the fluff and hold all officials responsible for their words and actions.
Now it is time for all of our elected officials to get to work immediately and to fulfill their responsibility to their constituents. Let’s hope that the dismal and negative rhetoric of the campaign is behind us and President Obama will use his leadership mandate to usher in a new era of civility in politics.
He would do well to model the example of George Washington, who was guided by civility throughout his political career. At 16-years-old, his tutor gave him the assignment of copying by hand 110 Rules of Civility, an exercise that influenced his life. These rules were composed by French Jesuits in 1595 and were disseminated in Washington’s era. While many of the rules are outdated and anachronistic, their purpose was to foster respect for others as well as self-respect. They provided a guide to Washington and others living at that time about how to get along with one another and work together for the common good.
Advice to teachers and parents always boils down to: Model the behavior you want to see. President Obama might wish to copy his own rules and distribute it to members of Congress, and let everyone know he plans to emulate them himself. Harry Truman’s sign on his desk, The Buck Stops Here, sent a message to the entire country. Perhaps President Obama would like to frame his own rules and place them on his desk. Successful teachers and parents know that by creating a sense of order, consistency, and trust, they send the message that respect, kindness, and accomplishment are paramount.
I don’t know of an elementary school teacher who does not begin the school year with a discussion of class rules. Secondary schools also have rules, and school districts are required to have Code of Conduct policies. Where is the Code of Conduct for our elected officials?
Here are a few “class” rules – gleaned from teachers and parents – that should help our representatives do the work of the people who elected them – and get to work solving our country’s daunting problems!
- Remember You Have Been Elected to Make Things Better
- Respect Your Colleagues
- Be Prepared To Compromise
- Stay On Task
- Complete Work On Time
- Respect Other People’s Opinions
- Stop thinking About The Next Election And Start Thinking About The Good Of The Country
Michelle Obama wowed the crowd last night at the DNC, just as Ann Romney did last week at the RNC. Everyone loves the First Lady and potential First Lady – and rightfully so. Both are attractive, intelligent, and dynamic speakers who appear to love their husbands and their children. Both value education and the American Dream, and of course, support their husband’s competing visions for this country.
It’s a relatively new phenomenon to use the candidates’ wives as character witnesses, and while both these women are impressive, let’s remember that it’s not really news when Mrs. Obama asserts that “we can trust” her husband, or Mrs. Romney tells us her husband “will not fail.” Both these women are tremendous assets to their spouses, but it’s important to keep in mind that we’re not electing them to run the country.
Yesterday, I met Hazel Dukes, the president of the New York NAACP. Formerly of Roslyn, the 80-year-old activist said she’s “too busy to get old.” She’s been traveling to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in an effort to help those without drivers’ licenses, comply with new requirements that they need official identification to vote. “I’ve met people who are 96-years-old, are registered voters and have voted in every election; they don’t understand why they need identification now. But we take them by the hand, and help them get what they need.”
On the other hand, the Charlotte Observer reported that The Voter Integrity Project, a North Carolina group focused on cleaning up voter fraud, presented the North Carolina Board of Elections last week with a list of 30,000 names of dead people statewide who are still registered to vote. The group, which calls itself non-partisan, supports requiring photo ID to vote, which Republicans typically support and Democrats typically oppose. Charlotte Observer
The youngest person at the Democratic Convention floor is Joseph Block of Westchester. He’s just 12-years-old and a seventh grader at SAR Academy in Riverdale, NY. He’s serving as a page at the convention. His responsibilities include “running around the hall,” and helping to distribute information to the delegates. His father, Herb, a DNC volunteer, said, “It’s a good job for kids.” Herb was a Congressional page during the summer of 1982, so Joseph is following in his father’s footsteps.
Joseph said he got interested in politics when he was seven years old, and this is his second Presidential Convention. He attended the DNC in 2008 when Barack Obama was nominated for the first time. “I get to hear great people speaking about our country,” he told me. I get to see how things work behind the scenes, and it helps me understand more about politics and government. It’s cool.”
Not surprising, social studies is his favorite subject. “I can’t wait till social studies,” he said. Joseph said he likes learning activities, rather than textbooks, and thinks good teachers “care” about their students. “They’re not just doing it for a job; they like teaching, educating kids.”
In regard to politics, he admitted that his friends are “not into it” and are more interested in sports. Joseph said he doesn’t aspire to be a politician because you get “a lot of people criticizing you, and you have a really tough job” but he might want to work behind the scenes.
Joseph will be campaigning for President Obama this year. He plans to give out flyers, signs, and knock on doors. He said if he had the opportunity to speak to the President, he would say: “You have a really tough job. You’re doing good.”
He estimates that about 70 percent of his classmates support Gov. Romney this year, reflecting their parents’ views. He said that in his school’s mock election in 2008, Obama lost by 18 votes out of 700.
Presidents’ Day always makes me remember my maternal grandfather, who encouraged my brother and me to learn the names of all the US presidents and vice presidents when we were still in the early grades. When we got together each week, we would play quiz show, mimicking the popular TV shows of that era. He would give us our assignment the week before and then reward us with pocket change for our correct answers the following week. He also had us learn each of the states and their capitals, as well as difficult spelling words.
My grandfather, who came to this country from Russia at age six, had to leave school at 14 to work as an errand boy to help his family of 10. But he knew the importance of learning. He later secured a plum position at the Post Office and courted and married my grandmother, who was one of 12 children born to immigrants.
My grandmother had graduated from high school, which she attended at night – something that was unusual for her day and station. My grandparents later ran a drug store with a soda fountain and put my mother, their only daughter, through college. When my mother graduated from New York University in 1943, she enlisted in the military after seeing a film about the Nazis. A generation later, my brother and I both received advanced degrees.
Only in America — the land of freedom and opportunity — is such advancement possible. Only in America could an errand boy have a daughter graduate from college and grandchildren earn a doctorate and a law degree. Only in America could individuals from humble origins — such as Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Lyndon Johnson — become president of the US. Only in America could Oprah Winfrey achieve her incredible success. Despite being born into poverty, her grandmother taught her to read when she was three-years-old. Later, when she went to live with her father as a teenager, he made education a priority.
Traditionally, public education in the United States was considered the passport that would level the playing field for the poor and disadvantaged. But an article in last week’s New York Times reported that several research studies indicate that while the racial gap has been shrinking, there is a widening achievement gap between affluent and poor students that is threatening to weaken education’s equalizing effects.
Researchers aren’t certain why, but some hypothesize that affluent children may perform better because their parents spend more time and money in providing them with enriching experiences, such as tutoring, music lessons, and literacy activities. Additionally, they appear to be more involved in their children’s schools. The recession likely has exacerbated this disparity.
But James J. Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago, contends that parenting counts as much or more than income in developing a child’s ability to learn and succeed in school.
“Early life conditions and how children are stimulated play a very important role,” he said. “The danger is we will revert back to the mindset of the war on poverty, when poverty was just a matter of income, and giving families more would improve the prospects of their children. If people conclude that, it’s a mistake.”
One young person who still believes in the power of education to be the great equalizer is Samantha Garvey, the 18-year-old Brentwood, L.I., high school senior who in January was named a semi-finalist in the Intel Science Competition while her family was living in a homeless shelter. She is president of her school’s chapter of the National Honor Society, and has a 3.9 grade point average. Her amazing story so captivated the public that Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone arranged for her family to move into a rent-subsidized home.
“My family’s setbacks are a source of motivation. I want to get my family ahead, which is why I do well in school,” Samantha told Newsday.
“My daughter is a blessing,” her mother, Olga Garvey Coreas, an immigrant from El Salvador, told the Huffington Post’s Latino Voices. “I never tire of thanking God for giving her the talent she has. She lives dedicated to her studies — nothing stops her.”
She added that parents must be vigilant in encouraging and supporting their children’s education. She pointed out that her husband, Leo, worked nights and that she worked days.
“The fact was that we never left them alone; we were always there to help them with their homework,” she said. “I believe that good communication is the basis for guiding our children.”
As we observe Presidents’ Day, let’s remember the promise and the possibilities of our country. We must ensure that public education continues to be the great equalizer. But that requires a team. We need more parents like Samantha Garvey’s, who encouraged her to learn despite the odds — enabling their daughter to achieve the unimaginable. We need more teachers like the ones in the Brentwood Public Schools, who embraced and encouraged Samantha, enabling her to shine. Samantha, of course, deserves credit for internalizing her parents’ values and grasping the opportunities her school offered.
There is no substitute for active and involved parents partnering with caring public schools. They are still our country’s best hope for enabling young people to become all they are capable of being.