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May 5, 2013 3:29 am

That Took a Lot of Courage, Mr. Collins

avatar by Tony Rebuck

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Jason Collins. Photo: Wikimedia commons.

As they say in my tribe: Yasher Koach. It took great strength of character to come out as the first openly gay athlete in US major sports.

As a proud Canadian, I am happy to bring to your attention the fact that we had a Jason Collins fifteen years before the US did. Our Mark Tewksbury, who was chef de mission of the Canadian team at the London Olympics, on hearing of his appointment said that it gave him more pleasure than when he won his 1992 Olympic title in the 100 meters backstroke. Incidentally he also won a silver medal in Seoul and a bronze in Barcelona. Tewksbury was the first Canadian athlete to announce he was gay voluntarily. What should have been recognized as a courageous act was instead punished by loss of his contract as a motivational speaker. Today Mark Tewksbury is a respected television commentator, swimming analyst and an international lecturer on the subject of decriminalizing homosexuality. I hope Mr Collins is similarly recognized in a timely fashion.

Traditional religious belief follows that there is a moral imperative forbidding all forms of homosexual activity. Certainly that was true in the context of the society in which the laws were handed down. Our challenge is to puzzle out how to interpret the Bible today. Many people allow some sexual practices and mores such as homosexuality that were forbidden in the Bible while at the same time, we condemn some practices that were freely allowed, such as polygamy, levirate marriage, possessing concubines, sex with slaves and the treatment of women as property.

Traditional Judaism considers homosexual acts as a violation against Jewish law and such eminent figures as Rabbi Boteach (author of ‘Kosher Sex’) says that homosexual acts are wrong simply because the Torah says they are wrong. At no time however, does the Torah condemn homosexual love.

The term used in the Torah to condemn homosexual acts is ‘an abomination’, the same word -to’eivah- in Hebrew, is that used to describe the eating of non-kosher meat.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has said that compassion, empathy and understanding are the essential elements of Judaism. My opinion is that homosexual Jews need to receive this message from us today. Reform Judaism, I am told, has rejected the traditional view of Jewish Law on the issue of homosexuality and does not prohibit ordination of gays and lesbians as rabbis and cantors; indeed, I am also informed that the Reconstructionist movement welcomes them.

My personal view about gays and lesbians in sport is that I find homophobia utterly loathsome. I admire Jason Collins and wish him and his teammates in the Washington Wizards well.

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