Hey, it’s ancient news now, but remember that whole Michael Sam thing? That was pretty badass, right? Everyone’s been waiting for someone to break the last major barrier in American sports; now, we know it’s happening (and actually, it already has happened
For this football-obsessed, Kinsey-six gay
Mizzou student, there were lots of feels. Good feels! Happy feels! Proud feels! First, because after watching Sam for the last three years, I knew he’d do nothing but great things on and off the field, even with the added attention and pressure after his announcement. But second, and more surprisingly, nobody said anything stupid. Even Facebook was completely free of objectionable content. There was no “why is this news?,” no “love the sinner, hate the sin,” no “he’s just doing this for publicity.” Even the one friend I have who sometimes complains about reverse racism affirmed his support and happiness for Sam. I was shocked to the point of tears of joy. We were all handling this so well!
In the ensuing days, though, things got a bit uncomfortable. While the enthusiasm the university and the student body displayed in support of Sam was awesome to see, it came with certain problematic preconditions (that I’m going to try to debunk - Buzzfeed style! - below). Again: it’s not that our reaction to Michael Sam was in any way disappointing or embarrassing; I just think we need to remember these things.1. This is about all LGBT people
Within an hour of Sam’s announcement hitting the press, everyone’s favorite group of Kansans, the Westboro Baptist Church, announced they’d be headed to Columbia the following Saturday to voice their displeasure with Mr. Sam and Mizzou in their typical polite fashion.
And within minutes after the WBC announcement, a group of students had formed their own counter-protest: “One Wall, One Mizzou
,” where attendees would form a silent human barricade, backs facing the Baptists, blocking the protest site from the rest of campus. The Facebook event got 5,000 respondents, and several thousand people did show up and follow through with the plan. The description on the Facebook event was kinda weird, though. “The focus of this wall is unification behind Sam to represent this school as One.”
Cool! Except … what about all the other members of the LGBT community, on campus and around the nation? Do we want to unify in support of them as well? It’s fine if we don’t, but then we should change the hashtag from #OneMizzou to #OneMizzouFootballPlayer…
(Again: I don’t doubt that the organizers and attendees are down with the cause for the entire LGBT community - why would you go through the trouble of organizing everything and showing up if you didn’t? It’s just weird that they didn’t say so.)2. We can have “MU Pride” and LGBT Pride
Also included in the Facebook event description
: a plea that those in attendance refrain from bringing signs, wearing apparel, or actively making verbal statements explicitly focused on LGBT rights. Wear black and gold, please; you divisive rainbow-clad queers needn’t head out.
This insinuation that LGBT pride/representation should take a back seat to demonstrate loyalty to Mizzou is kinda super insulting to gay people. It’s not like this is just another pep rally for the football team; the season’s over, for fuck’s sake. There are many valid reasons to counter-protest - to support Sam, the university and its embrace of LGBT people, LGBT rights in general. Why not let everyone express those reasons in whatever way they want?
3. It is political
Quoting, yet again, from that Facebook event description: “we don’t want to make this political or split the Mizzou community.”LOLWUT.
Call me back when I can get married and not get thrown out of the store
while trying to buy the wedding cake, kthx. 4. We should probably be mad at other groups/people in addition to the Westboro Baptists
You know the batshit bills in Arizona and Kansas that would make it legal for businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples on the grounds that queers somehow violate their religious beliefs? Something very similar just got introduced in the Missouri legislature! So we can expect a crowd of thousands in front Sen. Wayne Wallingford’s
office tomorrow, right?
Sure, the Westboro Baptists deserve to be cunt-punted into oblivion. Sen. Wallingford and his counterparts in Arizona and Kansas deserve no better. Nor do the various other religious sects that lack Westboro’s name brand but share the same spirit of hatred. Just because the WBC is an easy target of ire doesn’t mean we should stop there.
(Also, a thought: maybe the WBC is so universally hated not because of its homophobia, but because it protests institutions - military funerals, football, etc. - that society (i.e. straight people) values so highly? Plenty of groups openly campaign against gay rights and receive either little attention or a spike in chicken sandwich sales; take shots at the military, though, and you’ve gone too far.)5. Keeping Sam’s sexuality a secret wasn’t a noble feat, just a matter of basic human decency
The Columbia Missourian, the Mizzou j-school funded newspaper that calls itself “Mid-Missouri’s Finest News Source,” ran a, uh, thing
from sports editor Greg Bowers (who, fun fact, doesn’t even like sports) discussing how the paper had known about Sam’s sexuality since August, but refrained from publishing the news without Sam’s OK. “Look at us! We knew *AND* we didn’t tell!”
Well happy fucking congratulations. You’re not assholes! I mean, your paper is full of typos, your sports section renounces actual sports news in favor of puff pieces about fake mustaches
, and you used the word “chortled” in an article in the year 2014, but you kept this big, bad secret! Just wait here, Greg, while I bake you a batch of cookies and finish embroidering “ALLY” on this sash I bought you.6. This is about Mizzou’s people, not the school itself
Considering that we are in the middle of Missouri, it’s amazing how supportive Columbia and the Mizzou community is of LGBT people. The University has added sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination policy, provides full benefits to same-sex partners of its employees, funds a ballin’ LGBTQ Resource Center, promotes inclusivity for trans* students, and has a ton of respected student leaders who identify as members of the LGBT community.
But those things didn’t just happen. All of these forms of progress were the result of years of advocacy of a few concerned and determined
students and staff members. The administration and the student body deserve credit for accepting and implementing these mechanisms of support for LGBT students; but its those activists who campaigned on behalf of those policies from the start, and not “the system” as a whole, who should get the credit.
In the same way, Michael Sam made himself. His on-field success and off-field bravery are solely the products of his own journey. That the most notable part of that journey occurred at Mizzou is merely a happy accident of fate.7. It’s…really fucking complicated
Back in August, I was headed out to dinner with some friends - an average night like any other -when “Same Love” came on the radio, and things got, uh, weirder. I felt the eyes sheepishly darting toward me, in imagined hopes of a certain reaction; I felt the thoughts of “this song is about *you*” and “you *must* love this song, it has to be so relatable.” And sure, this memory stems more from my underlying insecurities than anything else, but in that moment, I was reduced to being the gay one, as if that’s the only thing that defines or matters about me. While I wasn’t ostracized or taken advantage of in any way, the whole thing did make me feel uncomfortably, visibly different, in a context where I just want to blend in.
Of course, it’s important to recognize the gay community (and its allies) as a “we,” because in numbers we gain power and in power we gain recognition and rights. But all that’s just a small start, because our voices are even more compelling on their own. I’m sure Macklemore’s just a well-meaning dude trying to appeal to the universality of emotion, but a) he sucks, and b) in his lecturing, all he does is erase the real, highly individualized lives of queer people. Pride parades and celebrity comings-out and equal-sign profile pictures are important in their own way (because visibility is power!) But the tiny moments in the most banal environments - two guys holding hands walking down the street, or a lesbian couple sharing a goodbye kiss at the front door every morning when one of them leaves for work - are the ones that I think really help everyone understand, relate to, love (or learn to love) everyone else.
This part’s a completely convoluted mess, and doesn’t relate at all to any of the other points, but I needed to try and express it. Militant crusading for equality is great and all, but to me, indifferent acceptance - the “who cares?” that my friends gave me when I came out to them - is so much more desirable. Because queer people are not political symbols who look or deserve to be thrust into the societal spotlight, just normal human beings that have the same hopes and occupations and faults and fears and interests that create wholly unique stories for each one of us, the same as everyone else. And when we all get so wrapped up in the “cause,” we forget that the gender of the human being on the other side of your mouth doesn’t really fucking matter, and how ludicrous it is that anyone ever thought it did.