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Jason Collins, Good Parenting and the Arc of the Moral Universe

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One of the more remarkable things about Jason Collins coming out this week as the first gay male professional athlete was how inevitable it felt. There are gay celebrities in just about every profession imaginable: they’re news anchors, musicians, talk show hosts and even athletes. But most openly gay athletes have waited until retirement to out themselves.

By coming out as a free agent just after finishing his season with the Washington Wizards, Jason Collins provided us with a definite feel-good moment and a historic advance that could save the lives of thousands of gay teens.

But it was also unremarkable in a way that it wouldn’t have been a generation ago. Which makes it remarkable to me, if not my kids.

The other morning over breakfast, my girls (ages 4 and 7) were listening to Lady Gaga, dancing in lieu of eating. The little one asked about the lyrics and what being “born this way” means. Before I could get a response in, her older sister matter-of-factly explained that some people are gay and sometimes boys love boys and girls love girls and that’s just the way it is.

I couldn’t have been prouder, but I didn’t tell her.

The reason is simple: I don’t want to make a big deal out of something that, to her, is not a big deal.

As state after state (and country after country) legalizes gay marriage, I’m reminded of the Martin Luther King Jr quote: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.“

My colleague, Shawn Bean, put it eloquently in an email to me this morning:

"Despite the bravery of people, stereotypes and prejudices like this don't change in days, weeks, or years. They change with generations. And we are seeing that now. We shouldn't ruin it for our kids by reminding them how backwards most of us were before them."

To be sure, context is key and learning the history of the struggle for equality will ultimately make my daughters appreciate that equality all the more. But just as my girls don’t think twice about having friends who happen to have a different melanin make-up (they are themselves mixed-race, which to all of us is no big deal), a person’s sexual orientation will be no more remarkable to them than the color of their hair. At least that’s my hope.

As it happens Jason Collins, who is four years younger than me, went to the same high school I did: an affluent and relatively progressive West Coast prep school called Harvard-Westlake. My Facebook wall lit up yesterday with classmates proudly claiming Collins as a fellow alum, one of us.

I'd like to think we all would have done the same back in 1991, but I wonder. Around that time, one classmate reminds me, a teacher came out in the student newspaper and some parents demanded he be fired. (He wasn't.)

The school’s president, Thomas Hudnut, was equally unequivocal about Collins. "He was raised right, educated right and now he's done right," he told a local NBC affiliate.

And by all accounts, Collins is the product of great parenting. Paul Collins, Jason’s father, was reportedly blindsided by the news when his son came out to the family last summer.

"We had no indication, even in hindsight,'' Collins told the Silicon ValleyMercury News. "He did a good job masking it. But when he says, 'Here's the situation,' you take a deep breath and tell 'em you love 'em.''

Collins continued: "My initial reaction was: I love you, and if you're gay, that's OK. As a parent, you just want your children to feel good about themselves."

As can be expected, I did hear one joke made in response to Jason Collins’ announcement. It maybe does more than any navel-gazing blog post can do to underscore how far we’ve come (while acknowledging how far there is yet to go).

The joke? I’m more impressed with the courage it took for Jason Collins to come out as a Washington Wizard.