We spent so much time last week waiting for the next U.S. senator to come out for same-sex marriage that we totally missed two important cultural moments in the quest for acceptance for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. First, Ervin Johnson III, son of basketball great Magic Johnson, who is known as E.J., came out of the closet publicly in flamboyant fashion via TMZ. Then his father publicly supported him with words that every gay kid hopes to hear from his or her parents.
Coming out is tough for anyone. Still, I can only imagine what it was like for the son of one of the most revered African American basketball players in the country. The swirl of race, machismo and sports can be a volatile mix. The assumption is that no basketball player would want to have a gay son, let alone one who is reminiscent of legendary André Leon Talley, the former editor-at-large at Vogue. But Magic defies stereotype. He is out, loud and proud about supporting his son.
“We’ve known for a long, long time, you know that my son E.J. was gay,” Magic told TMZ. So, during the birds-and-the-bees talk when their son was “about 12, 13 years old, 14 years old,” Magic said he told E.J., “‘Look, I’m going to love you regardless. Just let me know: Are you or aren’t you?’ And then finally he just said, ‘Yes, I am.’”
Not surprisingly, Magic said his son worried about his sports star father’s reaction. But he needn’t have been. “I love E.J. so much. That’s my main man,” Magic told TMZ. “So, I told him, I said that nothing has changed. I just want to help you along the way because a lot of people are going to be happy for you. Then some won’t understand. So, you have to remember, always talk to me or talk to your mother and we’ll just help you along the way.”
The jaw-dropping video of E.J. sashaying along Hollywood’s Sunset Strip with an orange purse in the crook of his left arm and his boyfriend clutching his right hand went viral pretty fast. “I think he just said, ‘You know what? This is my moment. This is my time. I’m happy to share with the world who I am,’” Magic said. “And I said, ‘Go, E.J. Go.’ I’m behind him a million percent. This is really wonderful for him.”
But not everyone thought it was so wonderful. Some of the comments from African Americans on Web sites ranged from ignorant to hateful. “I would kill him,” one scribbler wrote on the NewsOne message board. “In fact if he was gay and I was his father he would never have come out saying he’s gay.” That comment has the distinction of being both ignorant and hateful.
When Magic was asked about the venom directed at E.J. from the black community, the Los Angeles Lakers legend said, “We knew this was going to happen because in our community you frown down on gays.” But he added, “[L]ook, I don’t care who’s attacking my son. You know, I’m going to still support him. I’m going to still love him. And he’s a good kid, a good young man.”
Then Magic was asked if it bothered him that the African American community wasn’t as supportive of him as he is of it with his major investments in black communities around the country. The basketball hall-of-famer answered with characteristic hopefulness.
It bothered me that they are discriminating against anybody who’s gay. I’ve been in the gay movement for a long time because of HIV and AIDS with me. And so I’ve seen young men who are black who couldn’t come out, who couldn’t tell their parents. They were fearful of what would happen….So, now it’s my son now, right? And so I’m hoping that they understand this is year 2013. We should stop discriminating against people and just support them….
And I think this is going to be good for a lot of black young people who want to come out. He’s going to be that symbol and that symbol of hope that they can now come tell their parents, tell their friends….I think it’s going to be important. So, E.J.’s really going to help a lot of young people.
Yes, E.J. is going to help a lot of young people. But so will Magic. His unwavering support of his son to be who he truly is should be an inspiration for other parents of gay children, particularly black parents. If President Obama’s public support of marriage equality had the power to change hearts and minds among African Americans, imagine what impact a sports figure like Magic Johnson could have.
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