During a South By Southwest panel Saturday afternoon, retired NBA player Jason Collins and soccer star Megan Rapinoe said it’s important for those in the LGBT community to stand up and be counted even if they don’t want to be the face of the campaign.
In the Out on the Field: LGBT Pro Athletes in 2015 SXsports panel moderated by USA Today’s Mike Foss, the athletes discussed everything from their own coming out stories and acceptance to the long way society still has to go.
Collins, who made headlines in 2013 when he became the first active male athlete from one of the four major North American professional team sports to publicly come out, said those in the LGBT community have a responsibility to at least make their status known.
“Stand up and be counted at least once,” Collins said. “Let everyone know you’re proud of who you are and you acknowledge it publicly.”
Collins said a great example of someone who did just that is Apple CEO Tim Cook, who announced in an essay published by Bloomberg Business in October 2014 that he is gay.
“While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now,” Cook wrote in the piece. “So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”
Agreeing that coming out is a necessary and important step that helps set the landscape for the whole LGBT community, Rapinoe added that society should make it possible for people to go back to their regular lives after coming out.
“Advocacy isn’t for everyone,” she said. “That’s OK.”
That being said, Rapinoe, who came out just before the 2012 London Olympics, did say it’s crucial for those in the limelight to publicly come out.
“It breaks down barriers and sets a precedent for when people do come out,” Rapinoe said. “We do have a responsibility to sort of pave the way.”
That’s something Rapinoe says is not just the responsibility of the players, but also the leagues they play in.
“It’s important that if we’re really serious about people wanting to feel comfortable … it has to be responsibility on both sides,” she said.
And while comfort is important for those that are dealing with the struggles of being gay and coming out, Collins says for the future, a little bit of discomfort on society’s part isn’t always a bad thing.
“Continue to challenge the status quo,” Collins said. “Make people uncomfortable, because that’s when you grow.”