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Jason Collins SI coverJason Collins, a free agent for the NBA, publicly declared today that he is gay and, as a teacher, I am grateful.

I thought all day today about the students who were brave enough to declare that they were different from the mainstream beacause of their sexual orientation. I thought all day about students who were terrified or ashamed or shy but quietly confided in me or my colleagues that they felt different and they didn’t want to keep it a secret any more.

Jason Collins wrote for Sports Illustrated, “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black and I’m gay.” With these simple words, he may radically alter the conversation about this country’s obsession with athletics, sexuality, and the perception of gender roles and sexual identity.

Or maybe he won’t. Maybe he won’t get signed. Or maybe he won’t play well and the professional sports community and supporters will never talk about this again. But for right now, the conversation has been overwhelmingly positive, with Twitter flooding with #support, messages of love and pride and compassion for a man who is just being who he was born to be.

Someday I may have a student who benefits from Jason Collins’ simple bravery. Maybe he or she will be spared a moment of shame or confusion, and for that I am grateful. It makes me hope for a new world for all of the students I have yet to be blessed with — a new “normal” — one that is kinder, more compassionate, and less focused on a person’s bedroom and more on what they have to offer as a human being.

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