Michael Sam has sparked a movement, and I have watched it from across the sea where I’m studying abroad, wishing I were home to join it.
His decision to come out has already made history, and as he looks toward the NFL Draft, he will surely make it again.
Sam may have never wanted to be an activist, but he’s made millions across the country into one. He has turned critics by adding a face to the notion of the first openly gay player any of the four major professional men’s sports leagues has seen. His statistics speak for themselves, and his accomplishments as a player on Missouri’s football team prove how much we can achieve by living our lives authentically.
But Sam is one of the lucky ones.
He had a team behind him who not only kept his secret, but who also helped guide him through a monumental senior season. When he came out, thousands linked arms to protest the few who defamed him. When you stood in unison for him, you also stood for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students whose voices aren’t as loud, whose stories have yet to be told, whose struggle for love and acceptance is incomparable to that moment.
But it would be a fallacy to pretend the unity seen on Saturday is a direct reflection of how our campus treats its LGBTQ students.
Many still find walking home alone at night on our campus to be unnerving, and some choose to be closeted to combat this fear. Plenty still have to sit and listen to homophobic and transphobic rhetoric because they are not in a situation where they feel comfortable enough to intervene. Gender identity has yet to be included in our school’s non-discrimination policy, and our university has shown a lack of education on transgender issues.
Unlike many of his fellow Tigers, Sam’s notoriety will likely spare him from having to continue to come out again and again for the rest of his life. If he isn’t drafted, millions will protest the undeniable fact that his sexual orientation cost him his career, while just as many in the LGBTQ community can still be lawfully denied employment for that very reason. And though it was treated as “non-issue” by many of his peers, many fail to realize how the intersectionality of his sexual orientation transcends every aspect of who he is.
But it was Michael Sam’s courage that started a conversation.
People are talking now; people who normally would never talk so openly about what it means to be gay on this campus. His story is breaking down walls and defying stereotypes. He has brought national attention to our town, and you have responded by showing up by the thousands to prove just how much actions speak louder than words.
I hope that as February turns to March and March to April, those actions are just as powerful. I hope that message of unity translates into how every LGBTQ student on campus is treated. And I hope that, as we watch proudly as Sam makes history, we can make him proud by continuing to help change Mizzou’s.