Jason Collins

All images taken by Joshua Kissi.

All images taken by Joshua Kissi.

40, NBA's first active openly gay player; former Brooklyn Nets player

When I was in high school we had Black History Month, but we really didn’t have a class that was devoted to African-American studies. I was constantly sort of looking for figures who would be an inspiration to me and who would look like me. Add to that the component of being a gay Black man. I was looking for in particular gay Black men who were pioneers and trailblazers, that just weren’t taught in high school.

The whole LGBTQ history was not even taught until I got to college. That was in 1997.

It’s about to be the 50th year anniversary of The Stonewall riots and a lot of the people who helped start that movement were queer people of color.

I was actually in Harlem [at an event] and one of the honorees was the partner of a man named Bayard Rustin. When you start looking at all the pictures of Dr. King, who’s in the background? Bayard Rustin. He is a gay Black man who was on the inner circle of Dr.King’s movement and was coming up with strategies and helping to organize the march on Washington. Learning about Bayard Rustin and all that he has done for our country as a gay Black man and as a trailblazer, was inspiring to me.

He was arrested for being gay, but at the same time he was still part of the inner circle. It shows that there’s overlap in a lot of the struggles that people are going through whether it’s gender, race, LGBTQ issues, or immigration. It’s about all of us pulling together and understanding that there’s a lot of intersectionality.

When I made my coming out speech in 2013, an article in Sports Illustrated came out about me. It started withI’m Black. And I’m gay. and part of that was because I, as many African Americans and people of color, you can’t hide your race but you can sort of hide your sexual orientation.

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So you can hear when people are talking and they don’t know who is in the room. You see people’s inner thoughts and inner language. The language that they use with regards to certain people, it’s scary.

One of the people that I was really afraid to come out to was my grandmother. She was this old Black woman who had a Bible in one hand and a belt in the other. She was very religious, and I was afraid to come out because religion had been used by so many people to separate us, but for her when I did come out it was all about love. She embraced me. That’s what religion should be like it’s about bringing people together and making people feel welcomed.

That’s why I work so hard with our players and this league with regard to their language in the locker room and making sure that they understand that this is a workplace. You know what it’s like to walk into a room and be the only person of color in the room - and in that moment how do you want to feel? Did you want to feel accepted or did you want to feel like as you’re walking around that room people are whispering about you? n that moment you wanted to feel welcomed, so why not when you are in majority make someone else feel welcome? Extend your hand and make sure you’re using language that makes everybody feel that they are welcome in the room.