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Locals react as NBA's Jason Collins comes out gay

April 30, 2013
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Shawna Kemppainen hasn't closely followed the NBA in decades, not since Magic Johnson posters decorated her walls.

But Kemppainen was a basketball fan again on Monday when she learned that NBA veteran Jason Collins had come out as the first openly gay active player in a major American team sport.

'That's the kind of message that normalizes for young people that they can just be who they are, ' said Kemppainen, who until last week was the executive director for Inside/Out Youth Services in Colorado Springs. 'They need to see that they are every bit as capable of being an NBA star as their straight peers - no more or no less. '

Collins is a 7-foot, 12-year NBA veteran who has played for six teams in a career that before Monday was largely forgettable. He has never averaged more than 6.4 points or rebounds in a season, has never made an all-star team and has led the league in only one category - personal fouls in 2004-05.

Kemppainen's interest in Collins' coming out was because of the precedent it sets and how that might trickle down. Her time in Inside/Out - which she described as a gay boys' or girls' club - and now as the director at Urban Peak in Colorado Springs, has brought her into contact with many youths who were abused or shunned after telling their parents they were gay.

'We might think, 'Oh, this is no big deal anymore,' ' Kemppainen said. 'But there are a lot of people who think this isn't an OK thing. This helps normalize. He will be setting a bar and sending the example for the rest of us that we should be able to be out and live our lives just like anyone else on a sports team, in the work place, when you walk into your church ... you love who you love. '

This is the message Brad Clark works to spread as the executive director for the Denver-based One Colorado.

Clark recently created an informational video with Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried and Faried's two mothers and has closely monitored the LGTB community's place in sports and society.

Though he met the Collins news with excitement, Clark saw it not as a momentous event but rather the next step in the continuing evolution of public perception.

He said the groundwork for an athlete to feel comfortable enough to come out had been laid by Faried and other athletes who have offered support for the LGTB community.

'Politically you have the president supporting marriage and just a number of victories all around the country, ' Clark said. 'This is just one more thing. '

Collins' announcement was met with support and backlash nationally. While figures such as Bill Clinton, Kobe Bryant and Michael Strahan congratulated Collins, Internet message boards were filled with the stern judgments and denouncements that likely have prevented an athlete in a team sport from coming out before.

Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family, which has opposed same-sex marriage and on its website touts a dedication 'to defending the honor, dignity and value of the two sexes as created in God's image - intentionally male and female - each bringing unique and complementary qualities to sexuality and relationships, ' declined to comment on Collins. A spokeswoman said the organization's policy is not to speak publicly when an individual decides to comment on his or her sexuality or sexual preference in the news.

Kempainnen, who lauded the work done locally at Colorado College with its 'You Can Play ' project, stopped short of comparing Collins to a sort of Jackie Robinson for the LGTB community, but she said his decision will have a noticeable impact.

'Jason Collins' step out of the closet is going to open doors for the thousands, ' Kempainnen said. 'His message is you can be yourself, and you can play on the team, and you can be honest about who you are. '

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