Church halts funeral over photo of 2 women kissing

Posted on 14 Jan 2015 at 11:42am
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This photo of protestors gathered outside New Hope Ministries on Tuesday was provided by protest organizer Jose Silva to ABC News

As we here at Dallas Voice are getting ready to publish on Friday, Jan. 16, the first of what is intended to become the annual Dallas Voice Lesbian Issue, we were horrified to come across this story about a Colorado lesbian whose funeral was halted midstream and forced to move to another location because of a homophobic pastor:

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Vanessa Collier

Friends of Vanessa Collier this week protested outside a Lakewood, Colo., church Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 13, after the pastor of New Hope Ministries church stopped their friend’s funeral on Jan. 10 because of a video showing Collier kissing her wife.

Collier, 33, died Dec. 30. She is survived by her wife, Christina Higley, and their two children, among other family members. Jessica Maestas, Collier’s cousin who helped Collier’s mother arrange the funeral, told ABC News that New Hope Ministries was aware that Collier was a lesbian because they told the church about her sexual orientation while they were making funeral arrangements. Maestas also said they told the church that they would be playing a video at the service, and that they had complied with the church’s rule that the video be submitted two days prior to the funeral so church officials could review it.

“I provided the video, and got the okay from the funeral home that we would be able to show it,” Maestas told ABC News.

But last Saturday, about 15 minutes into the funeral, New Hope Pastor Ray Chavez stopped the funeral and told family and friends they would have to remove a video that included photos of Collier kissing Higley, and photos of the two women together with their children. Irate mourners instead gathered up the flowers, the programs for the service and eventually Collier’s casket and moved to a new location. Fortunately, Newcomer Funeral Home, across the street from New Hope Ministries, was able to accommodate the funeral, although the crowd of about 180 had to pack into a room intended for about half that many.

Collier’s longtime friend Victoria Quintana told the Denver Post that the whole incident was “humiliating [and] devastating.”

The Post reported that about four dozen people gathered outside New Hope Ministries on Tuesday afternoon, waving signs saying “Shame on Pastor Ray” and demanding an apology for what happened, as security guards posted around the church made sure none of the protesters moved onto church property.

ABC News also notes that Collier’s relatives say they have received no refund on the money they paid New Hope Ministries to host the funeral.

Both ABC News and the Denver Post said that no one at New Hope Ministries would comment on the situation.


Swearing in the new Texas House

Posted on 14 Jan 2015 at 11:02am

Yesterday, I went to Austin in a bus chartered by Rep. Eric Johnson with about 50 of his constituents and supporters. Thousands of people filled the Capitol building to watch the swearing in of the 84th Texas Senate and House of Representatives. Johnson reserved a committee room from which his group could watch the ceremony.

Secretary of State Nandita Berry presided over the House session through the election of Rep. Joe Strauss as Speaker. She began with a very partisan speech about the diversity of the state, mentioning representatives and what they represent — like the San Antonio district where Toyota Tundras are manufactured and the Plano district where Toyota is moving its U.S. headquarters. Quite noticeably, she omitted any mention of Democratic Dallas while managing to mention every other major city in the state.

The Plano delegation and a few of its supporters, like Tarrant County Rep. Matt Krauss, may have effectively ended any power the Tea Party will have in this session by supporting Rep. Scott Turner of Frisco in the election for Speaker. After Turner lost, getting just 19 votes, Turner spent 25 minutes delivering a concession speech in which he berated the other members of the House for not voting for him.

My favorite part of the day: We were in and out of the Capitol several times during the day. Each time anyone enters the building, they pass through security. You can bypass security if you have a concealed weapon permit or when accompanied by a member of the Legislature. Well, you have to show the permit. All I had to do to get in was point to Johnson and say, “I’m with him.” I told Johnson that he’s much better than a concealed weapon permit.


Was Whitney Houston gay?

Posted on 14 Jan 2015 at 8:02am

Yolonda Ross

Editor’s note: This week, the Lifetime TV movie Whitney — directed very ably by Angela Bassett — makes its debut. For a TV biopic, it’s pretty good, though many fans will be disappointed that it doesn’t delve into her life much before or after she met Bobby Brown (it’s really a love story). But Deborah Cox, who dubs the singing of Whitney, does great with the numbers and it’s a lot of fun to watch.

But some folks may wonder what, exactly, was left out, which is what freelancer Mark Dawson asked about when he interviewed Yolonda Ross, who plays Whitney’s (rumored) lesbian lover in the movie.

There’s one thing Yolonda Ross — the actress who plays the role of Whitney Houston’s (rumored) lesbian lover in the upcoming Lifetime movie, which premieres Saturday — knows for sure about Whitney and her gal pal, Robyn: “They were two people that deeply loved, cared for and respected one another,” she says. “Theirs could have been more than a friendship and if so, it’s really unfortunate if others got in the way of it or compromised it.”

Directed by Academy Award nominee Angela Bassett, Whitney Houston will focus on the singer’s rise to stardom and her stormy relationship with Bobby Brown.

To prepare for the role, Ross feverishly studied Houston and her longtime assistant, Robyn Crawford. According to reports, the two met at 16 during a summer job in East Orange, N.J., and allegedly soon began a romantic relationship. They purportedly broke up when Houston married Brown in 1992.

“Robyn seems to be a straight-up, very grounded person,” Ross says, “somebody who, no matter what the situation, has got your back or is gonna set you straight. She offered security to Whitney and uncompromised companionship.”

The film is the first-ever produced about the life and death of Whitney Houston. Ross predicts it will be a piece of history. “Like The Jackson’s movie, The Temptations and The Five Heartbeats: three movies every black person in America has seen at least once in their life. This will be one of those, but reach an even wider audience due to today’s global media.”

Ross made her feature film debut in 2001’s Stranger Inside. The film earned the actress her first Film Independent Spirit Award nomination, along with the IFP Gotham Award for breakthrough performance.


Ya Ya DaCosta and Arlen Escarpeta as Whitney and Bobby

She went on to appear in Denzel Washington’s Antwone Fisher, Woody Allen’s Whatever Works, David Mamet’s Phil Spector, HBO’s Treme and the independent film, Yelling To The Sky. In 2014, she starred in John Sayles Go For Sisters, a film that has done what no other has — featured two black women leading a buddy film. This role earned the Omaha native her second Spirit Award nomination (for supporting actress). She has several films slated for 2015 including the indie drama Meadowland with Olivia Wilde and Lila and Eve starring Jennifer Lopez and Viola Davis.

“I’ve always been creative,” she says. “I paint, write, sing and play instruments.” However, she never imagined she’d pursue a career in acting. “I have always been painfully shy. Getting in front of people and acting something out was nothing I ever thought I would do.”

That all changed when she moved to New York City and realized she would need extra money to get by.

“I was in school and friends convinced me to try commercials and music videos. The opportunity came to do extra work on Saturday Night Live. It got me my AFTRA card and an agent. I didn’t hear from the agency for a while, but out of the blue, they sent me on an audition for New York Undercover, and I booked it. Months later they called me for another audition. It was for Stranger Inside.”

That HBO film forever changed the course of the young actress’ life.

“I had never taken an acting course,” she says. “But I was blessed with a gift and I have always studied people, and used music to help me create. I just applied that knowledge to scripts.”

When taking on a role, Ross’ objective is to embody a character to its fullest. “I aim to be that person inside and out, from the way they smell to the way they think. I want to know their ticks and personal traits. I want the character to speak through me and to make the viewer feel something,” she explains.

It hasn’t been smooth sailing. Ross describes being a young black woman in Hollywood today as “swimming upstream against the current and sometimes having rocks thrown at you.”

There are multiple hurdles. “Where roles for white actresses are endless, we only get to play limited types of characters,” she says, “and many are side roles that are only given few lines in a movie.”

She also sites lack of support from the black community. “Unless you’re Halle, Angela, Kerry Washington, or Viola now, it’s easy to be overlooked by the community, but social networking does help. Some of us keep ourselves employed by creating our own interesting content, but it takes money, time and people to do all that and not all actors want to do everything.”

Fortunately for Ross, she does.





Vile anti-gay law up for a vote in Virginia

Posted on 13 Jan 2015 at 4:59pm
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Anti-gay Virginia lawmaker Bob Marshall

Legislation has been introduced in Virginia that would allow anyone seeking or holding a business license from the state of Virginia to refuse service or entry to gay people, on the grounds it “would violate the religious or moral convictions of such person with respect to same-sex “marriage” or homosexual behavior,” according to this report by Addicting Info.

House Bill 1414, pre-filed Jan. 14 in the Virginia General Assembly, is being spear-headed by anti-gay lawmaker Bob Marshall. Marshall is notorious for his unsuccessful effort to exclude gays from the Virginia National Guard and for his attempt in 2012 to block the appointment of  a judge on the grounds that the nominee was gay, saying that “sodomy is not a civil right.”

Luckily, Virginia’s governor is Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who has a “track record of expanding protections for LGBT people,” said Christy Mallory, senior counsel at the Williams Institute, who has been tracking nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people across the country. If the Virginia Legislature were to pass the bill, McAuliffe could veto it to keep it from becoming law.


Texas AFT President and labor giant Linda Bridges has died

Posted on 13 Jan 2015 at 4:11pm

LindaReclaimLinda Bridges, president of the the American Federation of Teachers’ Texas chapter, educator and labor leader, died at her home in Austin today (Jan. 13). She was 65.

In a statement provided by AFT, Bridge was remembered as a passionate fighter for teachers and students.

“Linda was a true legend, a giant of the Texas labor movement,” said John Patrick, Texas AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer.

“Our union has lost a great leader, and I’ve lost a true friend,” said Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers president. “Linda was a beloved member of the AFT family. She woke up every morning with one goal on her mind: To make sure educators had a voice—a crucial element in helping all kids succeed. There was never a mountain too high, an obstacle too great or an opponent too fierce to derail her from that goal. She’s one of a kind. We will so miss her, but I know we will all try to emulate her kind spirit, strong leadership and tireless advocacy for students, parents and communities. Our prayers are with Linda’s family today. Please know that her legacy will continue on.”

Bridges started her career in education as an elementary special education teacher in the Corpus Christi Independent School District.  She was a charter member of the Corpus Christi American Federation of Teachers and served as president of the local union for 24 years. She became president of Texas AFT in 2005. Under her leadership, membership grew from some 48,000 members to more than 65,000.

According to a statement released by AFT-Texas, Bridges is credited for pioneering “elected consultation” method for organizing workers in “right-to-work” states. The designation allows the organization, usually formed in an election process, to formally negotiate with a district on employee wages, benefits and working conditions.

She is survived by her partner, Kay Lee.

Services are pending at this time and will be announced on the Texas AFT Web site at


Straus re-elected Speaker of Texas House

Posted on 13 Jan 2015 at 1:55pm
Speaker Joe Straus

Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio

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Rep. Scott Turner, R-Frisco

Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, was re-elected as Texas Speaker on Tuesday (Jan. 13), defeating Scott Turner, R-Frisco, who ran to Straus’ right. Straus won 127 to Turner’s 19. No members voted present. Two were absent.

Straus was expected to win re-election, having already clinched nearly the majority of the GOP and Democratic caucuses. While the speaker’s race was never seen as competitive, numerous hard right groups had previously criticized Straus for failing to advance conservative legislation in past sessions.

With both sides on the defense, Straus and Turner’s supporters called for an unprecedented record vote of the election as opposed to the typical voice vote. Members’ votes would be recorded.

Turner even fell short of his backers’ estimates, clinching only 19 members, many of whom ran on opposing Straus in their elections.

It remains to be seen, but don’t anticipate Straus to seek revenge against the 19 members. Unlike with current U.S, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who tossed multiple dissenters within his ranks off committees, Straus isn’t seen as likely to punish them with irrelevant committee selections (or worse).

Here’s the unofficial vote tally, per the Texas Legislative Office. Yeas indicate a vote for Turner, nays indicate a vote for Straus (or against Turner in this case):

Yeas – Anderson, R.; Burrows; Fallon; Hughes; Keough; Klick; Krause; Leach; Rinaldi; Sanford; Schaefer; Shaheen; Simpson; Spitzer; Stickland; Tinderholt; Turner, E.S.; White, M.; Zedler

Nays – Allen; Alonzo; Alvarado; Anchia; Anderson, C.; Ashby; Aycock; Bell; Blanco; Bohac; Bonnen, D.; Bonnen, G.; Burkett; Burns; Button; Canales; Capriglione; Clardy; Coleman; Collier; Cook; Crownover; Dale; Darby; Davis, S.; Davis, Y.; Deshotel; Dutton; Elkins; Faircloth; Farias; Farney; Farrar; Fletcher; Flynn; Frank; Frullo; Galindo; Geren; Giddings; Goldman; Gonzales; González; Guerra; Guillen; Gutierrez; Harless; Hernandez; Herrero; Howard; Huberty; Hunter; Isaac; Israel; Johnson; Kacal; Keffer; King, K.; King, P.; King, S.; King, T.; Kleinschmidt; Koop; Kuempel; Landgraf; Larson; Laubenberg; Longoria; Lozano; Lucio; Márquez; Martinez; Martinez Fischer; McClendon; Menéndez; Metcalf; Meyer; Miles; Miller, D.; Miller, R.; Moody; Morrison; Mr. Speaker; Muñoz; Murphy; Murr; Naishtat; Nevárez; Oliveira; Otto; Paddie; Parker; Paul; Peña; Phelan; Phillips; Pickett; Price; Raney; Raymond; Reynolds; Riddle; Rodriguez, E.; Rodriguez, J.; Romero; Rose; Schofield; Sheets; Sheffield; Simmons; Smith; Smithee; Springer; Stephenson; Thompson, E.; Thompson, S.; Turner, C.; Turner, S.; VanDeaver; Villalba; Vo; Walle; White, J.; Workman; Wray; Wu; Zerwas

Absent – Craddick; Dukes


Taffet on the Road from Austin: Nominations for Speaker of the House

Posted on 13 Jan 2015 at 1:19pm
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State Rep. Joe Straus

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State Rep. Scott Turner

David reports that State Rep. Jeff Leach has nominated  Rep. Scott Turner — both Republicans from the Collin County area — for Speaker of the House. As David says, “Both are viscious anti-gay pricks who are co-sponsoring a bill to make nondiscrimination ordinances [like the one recently passed in Plano protecting LGBT people] illegal.”

Rep. Four Price, a Republican from Potter County, nominated Rep. Joe Straus, the Bexar County Republican who has been speaker for the last three sessions, to a fourth term.

We will update you when the vote is done.


‘Serial?’ Killer!

Posted on 13 Jan 2015 at 1:15pm

IMG_9003As this goes online, it’s 2:15 p.m. Eastern Time on Jan. 13, and unless something happens, you should be able to finish it in under 21 minutes. If those facts mean nothing to you, then you didn’t become addicted to Serial, the podcast spun off from Public Radio’s This American Life show. Serial began late last fall, and finished up its 12 episodes late last year, spending one episode each (from 28 to 55 minutes) dissecting a murder that, if you believe the jury system, started exactly 16 years ago this minute, and ended fewer than 21 minutes later with the death of a teenaged girl at the hands of her jilted boyfriend.

Only chances are, you don’t believe that.

Serial was an addictive experience, and after it ended, there were quite a few critics who cried foul. Why? Apparently, because they feel they wasted 8.5 hours of their lives listening to, and countless hours caring about, what happened to Adnan Syed. When he was 18, he was arrested for the murder by strangulation of his ex-girlfriend. There was no material evidence against him — no witnesses to the crime, no fingerprints, no DNA, and barely a motive — he was allegedly upset she dumped him, though no one said he was angry, violent or planned revenge.

No one, that is, except Jay.

Jay was the only real witness, a drug dealer who claimed Adnan called him at 2:36 p.m. on Jan. 13 and confessed to having just killed the girl, and solicited Jay’s help in disposing of the body. That was the first time Jay knew what had happened. Except that Jay told the police at another time that Adnan told him days before of his plan to kill the girl.

So which is it?

I found it strange, listening to this show, that folks would honestly expect producers of a podcast to retroactively solve a 16 year old crime, but that seemed to be one of the major reactions. Why didn’t you end the story for us?

To which I say: What the fuck?!

First, consider this: Serial is not journalism, and its host/reporter/producer Sarah Koenig not a journalist. Yes, she has a journalism background, but she is an entertainer. (I’ve head Ira Glass say as much.) I love This American Life, but it is not a show in a vacuum. It knows it tells compelling stories in a compelling way, and it’s structured precisely to do that. Are they “reporting”? Absolutely. But they are also perpetually commenting on their own feelings and reactions and misgivings and conflicts. And they do so in such a way to tell a juicy tale.

Second, Serial is not something else, either: A piece of fiction. They don’t get to make up the ending they want, or create theories to fit the facts just to satisfy some need in listeners. They tell the story as they find it.

Third, and something Koenig says repeatedly on the show, Serial‘s staff are not detectives. They aren’t employed to solve a crime, but to report on the aftermath of it. Again, for entertainment. And damned good entertainment at that.

That said, Koenig did infuriate me in the way only armchair liberals can. She clearly feels for Adnan, and thinks he got a raw deal (there was evidence that his attorney totally dropped the ball on an alibi witness, something that has actually led to Adnan getting a new hearing in front of an appeals court, which will take place tomorrow, Jan. 14. Talk about timing!). And she casts certain folks, like some of the jurors, in a harsh light for not following the law (they admitted to holding Adnan’s silence at his trial against him, even though that’s a constitutional no-no), and she wonders why the police didn’t follow up on leads, why his attorney didn’t hit home inconsistencies in the cell phone records, etc. And then Koenig turns around and does the same things they do.

She wonders, “If he is a sociopath, he’s a manipulator, and he’s manipulating me. Do I trust him?” She concludes the podcast — and this is what angered many devotees — by saying she would have voted to acquit were she a juror, even though she has doubts about whether he did it. And that’s one of the worst things she says, because implicit in her judgment is that some doubt matters. We convict people beyond all reasonable doubt, and personally, I have those. Everyone should. Adnan — who, of course, we never see, because it’s radio — maintains his innocence without inventing explanations. That makes sense to me: If he wasn’t there, what could he know about that happened? But ultimately, it’s just one more story of someone mishandled by the justice system (even if he really did do it).

To me, Serial was never a waste of time. As a lawyer myself, I was fascinated by the legal wrangling, especially the trial record, where Adnan’s attorney was, to me, a shrill, ineffective shrike. There was so much to learn about racism and inner city life. And it exposed a lot about the well-meaning elitists (like Koenig, or even myself) who judge others by their standards rather than those that make sense to their community.

I can’t wait to find out what happens at Adnan’s hearing. I hope he eventually gets real justice. And that would make a really good podcast.

Did you listen to Serial? What did you think?


Taffet on the Road from Austin: Day 1 of the 84th Legislature

Posted on 13 Jan 2015 at 1:01pm
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Pete Schulte

Dallas Voice’s intrepid reporter David Taffet is on the road today, traveling aboard a bus with friends, family and supporters of state Rep. Eric Johnson, the Dallas Democrats serving District 100. They are all in Austin for the first day of the 84th Legislature and the inauguration of new and returning lawmakers and state officials.

Mechanical problems with the bus before the group ever left Dallas put them a bit behind schedule, but they got there just in time for the swearing-in.

Schulte to run for sheriff

Also on that bus is Dallas attorney Pete Schulte who, David reports, has just announced that he will be running for Dallas County sheriff in 2016, as long as incumbent Sheriff Lupe Valdez retires, as she has said she will do.

Taffet says that the Texas Capitol is packed today, with lines of people waiting to get in at all four main entrances. And according to reports in the Houston Chronicle that most reporters are being turned away, David may be one of the few reporters inside for the swearing-in ceremonies.

Secretary of State speaks

Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, acted as emcee of the opening day ceremonies. Berry, from India, is married to a native Texan and their two sons were born in Ethiopia., She spoke about the diversity of the 150 representatives elected by their constituents to be their voice in Austin, mentioning every part of the state — but Dallas.

Villareal declines oath

Temporary House officers were then appointed, after which state senators were sworn in and the House took roll call by district number. Rep. Mike Villareal, from District 123, declined the oath of office to run for mayor of San Antonio, but the rest of the House members took their oaths of office.

Here are a few photos from Johnson’s group, watching the opening day ceremonies from a committee room below the floor of the House.

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Simply coming not out is enough in sports now — but there’s still a long way to go

Posted on 13 Jan 2015 at 8:12am

kissingOn the heels of Michael Sam’s engagement announcement, we wonder: Is it still possible to make Big News in sports? Dan Woog thinks so, as he writes here.

Back in the day — “the day” being, say, 2012 — an athlete coming out as gay or lesbian was Big News. In 2014, you had to do something really outstanding to make headlines. You had to be a National Basketball Association player, like Jason Collins — and then you had to sign a contract with a big-city team like the Brooklyn Nets. And your #98 jersey (worn to commemorate the year Matthew Shepard was killed) had to become the bestselling sports shirt in the country. Not just for basketball, but any sport.

You had to be a college football player like Michael Sam. Not just any football player, mind you, but one who was a consensus All-American, and your league’s Defensive Player of the Year. Then you needed to endure the media circus known as the NFL draft. And when you were drafted, you had to kiss your boyfriend, as cameras clicked and whirred.

You had to be a Major League Soccer player like Robbie Rogers. And because MLS is off many sports fans’ radars, you had to do something like play in your league’s championship game. And help win it. (We’ll run an interview with Rogers next week.)

You must have done those things because, in 2014, it was not just enough to come out as an openly gay athlete. Dozens of men and women did it. They were college football and basketball players, swimmers, baseball players, volleyball players and shot putters. They were Olympic speed skaters, lugers, rowers and gymnasts.

They were non-competitors too, but working in the sports world nonetheless. Coaches declared their sexuality publicly. So did pro teams’ front-office executives, and college teams’ sports information officials.

Major League Baseball umpire Dale Scott came out too. A year or two ago, that would have been Stop the Presses News. Now it was so unremarkable that — after he mentioned his partner in a Referee magazine article — it went unnoticed by everyone for a couple of months.

This long-awaited-but-still-unexpected state of affairs — an outpouring of openness across a broad swath of the sports universe — has created a gigantic ripple effect. Straight teammates have reacted with a range of emotions. Some give virtual high-fives, tweeting messages of support. College and pro teams have produced “You Can Play” videos, conveying the message that if you can dunk, dribble, pitch, row, run, dive, or do any other type of athletic activity, just go right ahead and do it — sexual orientation be damned.

Other teammates have reacted with who-cares shrugs. That’s appropriate too.

The ripple effect has reached down to high schools, and beyond. An entire generation of boys and girls are growing up knowing that they will have — may already have, in fact — LGBT teammates and coaches. It’s the same as realizing they’ll meet people of different colors and religions. Sports teaches many life lessons, and this is just one more.

The lesson is more profound for young LGBT athletes. They are joining the big, wide, only slightly dysfunctional sports world on their own terms, not even realizing that just a few years ago they would have faced formidable barriers to entry. This does not mean that thousands of gay boys and lesbians are suddenly signing up as out, proud Little Leaguers. Many of them have not yet figured out who they are. But they are playing their games in a rapidly changing environment. And as they concentrate more on batting and passing and shooting and whatever, they’ll spend less time on hiding.

Though, as with the rest of society, change comes more slowly in the transgender arena than others, the field is shifting for trans athletes too. But if a trans-inclusive vote earlier this month by Minnesota’s high school sports governing body is any indication — and why shouldn’t it be? — the “T” in LGBT sports is becoming more than just an afterthought.

So if in the year ahead you have to do something truly outstanding to make LGBT headlines in the sports world, what do you do?

Fortunately, there remain a few frontiers to conquer. You can be a professional sports franchise owner who hires the first openly gay head coach. You can be an ABC, CBS, NBC or ESPN TV announcer who announces, on air, that you are so proud of out athletes because you yourself are gay.

Or you can still be that elusive, still-unidentified-but-we-know-you’re-“out”-there man: a professional superstar, at the top of his game. You can be the guy to say — holding aloft the Super Bowl, World Series or NBA championship trophy — “I’m here. I’m queer. I’m going to Disney World.”

Even in 2015, that’s guaranteed to be Big News.