We are evolving for the better on matters of tolerance

Greenwich-Voices-JohnsonThe beat goes on and life’s road keeps unfolding before us as it should, if we let it.

Letting it is called progress. One can curse from the roadside as the convoy of progress rolls ahead, trying to throw pebbles of obstruction in the way of life’s all-terrain vehicles. But even boulders and logs of obstruction won’t work against the unfolding of life. It’s called human nature. Man evolves.

Case in point. NBA player Jason Collins this week, in a firsthand Sports Illustrated article, announced that he is gay, becoming the first male professional athlete in a major sport to “come out,” by saying, “When I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time.”

I’m proud of Jason not only because that took tremendous courage and enlightenment, but also because he’s a fellow Stanford University alum.

In remembering my days at Stanford, it occurred to me that I’ve come a long way on this topic.

When I was a graduate student there in 1984, I lived in a three-room male dorm in a temporary on-campus trailer park. One morning my two roommates approached me while I was eating a bowl of corn flakes and reading the Stanford Daily. They said, “We just wanted to let you know that we’re gay — we discovered each other after moving in.”

I mean, that’s not like discovering that your roommates are black, for example. My reaction, probably with a smile was, “OK, that’s cool.” I liked the guys — one of them spoke German and one was an MBA student, both of which were preferences I had requested in my housing application.

There wasn’t a checkbox for gay or straight (nor for race), so I wasn’t even thinking about that.

However, after considering the situation for a day or two, and realizing that I had one semester to go for my degree and that this was the final semester of my full scholarship and stipend, I concluded that — for me — it would be better to move out. So I told myself — and the Stanford housing office — that I couldn’t afford to have any distractions.

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1984, there was a certain — if not widespread — fear of the unknown due to lack of medical knowledge regarding the then new virus AIDS and its apparent links to promiscuous homosexual sex. How did it spread? Was it safe using the same bathroom or kitchen utensils?

Moving out had to do with my own squeamishness about the medical unknowns. I recall the housing counselor trying to talk me out of it, citing the university’s advocacy for openness and tolerance as a learning experience. That wasn’t mind-bending. There was a lesbian, gay, and bisexual community center on campus, probably one of the first in the nation. And I understood that. After all, someone else’s sexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with me.

However, at the time I felt I wasn’t being closed-minded or intolerant as much as just being practical. So they let me move out. Soon afterward, the death of a male French Canadian flight attendant who was linked to many early AIDS cases, as well as Rock Hudson’s diagnosis, seemed to confirm those kinds of fears.

But eventually I married a physician. Her brother was gay. A few years ago he died of HIV/AIDS. Everybody loved Toby, a sweet guy with a good soul. My sister, a world-renowned former professional ballet artist with the Dance Theater of Harlem, lost many fellow dancer friends to the deadly virus. They were my friends, too, through her love for them.

That wasn’t so long ago. Man evolves. Man, did I evolve. Man, did we all.


Claude Johnson is a local business owner, author, and former Democratic candidate for the Connecticut General Assembly. You may follow him on Twitter @claudejohnson and @blackfives.

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