Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
The chiming in has begun in all corners of the world, over the announcement by Jason Collins that he is “black, gay and in the NBA.”
I will say the best, most enlightened, sugarcoat-less article so far has been from ESPN’s Rick Reilly. He spoke with former teammates, and Collins’ former fiance about the admission, and how they felt to learn the news. Without rehashing that the whole “he said, she said,” thing, let me point to the best quote of the story:
If anyone reading this post believes that they haven’t:
- Stood in line next to someone
- Attended a college class with someone
- Been in a movie theater near someone
- Listened to music by someone
- Enjoyed a dance video featuring someone
- Been on a plane with someone
- Sat in a religious house of worship near someone
- Watched a sporting event with a player
…who is gay is really, REALLY fooling themselves. Unlike being a minority, female, or in some cases of a particular religious background, most times you can’t “see” gay. You only know for sure if someone chooses to tell or show you. If they do, take it as a compliment. If they share their orientation with you, they must trust you, or believe that you will not judge them. As much as the climate is changing in this country, the reality is you can still be fired from your job “without cause” in 29 states for being gay, 34 states for being transgender. (-Human Rights Campaign)
So think about that. For someone who is gay, it is as natural to them as being a human, right handed, or left handed. It is as normal as being a blond or brunette. So imagine, if you were really left handed, and you could lose your job for being such, what great lengths you would go to, in order to hide that you’re a “lefty.” You’d have to learn to write with your right hand. You may be able to pull it off, but it will never feel as comfortable and natural as writing with the other. You’d have to wear a watch on a different arm, possibly wear your phone on a different hip. You would do anything and everything to “look the part of a righty.”
Well for all practical purposes, that’s what Jason Collins did. He played basketball, but knew he could lose his job, as stated in the Sports Illustrated Article, and knew he could face teasing and bullying if he ever lived as he truly was. So he went out, got a girlfriend, and kept trying to “teach himself to look the part of a straight.” A month before he would have to cement his acting role, he backed out of his engagement. Shattering the feelings of the woman who was his unknowing “cover.” But relieved that he didn’t have to act, at least with her, anymore.
Then this week, Collins shared with the rest of the world what he told only a few people before. He was gay, happy to be such, and happy to finally stop living a lie. Think about that, “happy to stop living a lie.”
When did you last live with a life changing lie? What was it? You or someone you know may be living with one of these:
- An old high school buddy tinkering in the brink of financial ruin but telling everyone business is fine, because they don’t want the embarrassment.
- A longtime friend cheating on a spouse for years, but never leaving because they don’t want to upset the kids.
- A sister living with domestic violence, but making up stories about how she received the bruises that just keep popping up.
- A man who gets married because of his new wife’s health benefits, despite the fact that he doesn’t really love her (and she doesn’t know).
- A woman who dates Jeff, who adores her, showers her with gifts and helps out with her home expenses, but she really likes Bob at work.
- The manager, Tom, who can’t stand working for Dominic because he’s a narcissistic jerk who micromanages and can never be pleased. Tom stays in the job because the market is too fragile to simply quit, and he needs the steady paycheck to take care of his kids.
- The ex-spouse who tries to put a good game face on when he goes to do the kid exchange on the weekends with someone who was mean, emasculating, and condescending throughout the marriage, and has gotten worse since the divorce, all for the sake of avoiding additional drama for the kids.
If any of these sound familiar, you know what it means to live with a lie, the angst it can cause, and how it can keep you wondering what you really could be, if you weren’t walking around with that burden all of the time. When we do diversity and inclusion workshops for our clients, we leave the religious debate out of it. We don’t look at what some perceive to be moral issues. We look at what the business impact is on an organization that does not allow an individual to live life as their “authentic self.” What does that mean to your business, your profits, employee productivity? What would it have meant to Jason Collins’ NBA career? If he wasn’t always trying to be something he wasn’t, or worse, wasn’t always worrying about being caught or called out. Could he have had a more illustrious career? Would he have had stronger stats, better play, and his name in lights?
Unfortunately, we’ll never know. Neither will he. But what I can tell you from a business case for diversity perspective, any employee who feels like they are restricted from being themselves will never give you their best. Acceptance of them can unleash their inner rock star simply by taking away the stress of the lie.
What do you do in your workplace to create an inclusive environment for all? Are your company’s “non-negotiables” based in tangible truth, or just some habits someone started 30 years ago, and no one has ever bothered to step up to change with the times? How do you help employees know it’s OK to be who they are…really? Would someone who is different from you (in any way) agree that you make a conscious effort to do so?
As a leader, supervisor, or colleague, never underestimate the power of acceptance. The business results may surprise you.
Tags: Barak Obama, basketball, Bill Clinton, Boston Celtics, diversity, diversity training, ESPN, gay, Human Rights Campaign, inclusion, Jason Collins, job, NBA, out of the closet, Rick Reilly, Sports Illustrated, Stanford, Washington Wizards
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