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Jason Collins's Aunt on Why His Coming Out Announcement Didn't Surprise Her

Lauren Smiley | April 29, 2013 | Story Politics

NBA veteran and former Stanford baller Jason Collins charged out of the closet today as the first openly gay athlete in male pro team sports—news he revealed in a first-person tell-all piece in Sports Illustrated. The Twitter kingdom has responded with the cyber equivalent of a Mexican wave, with social media love streaming in from the likes of Bill Clinton, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Katy Perry, and many others. Yet all those high-fives were preceded by that of Collins’s aunt: San Francisco Superior Court Judge Teri L. Jackson.

Jackson got a shout out in Collins' piece as the first family member he confided in about his sexual identity. From the SI story:

“The first relative I came out to was my aunt Teri, a superior court judge in San Francisco. Her reaction surprised me. ‘I've known you were gay for years,’ she said. From that moment on I was comfortable in my own skin. In her presence I ignored my censor button for the first time. She gave me support. The relief I felt was a sweet release. Imagine you're in the oven, baking. Some of us know and accept our sexuality right away and some need more time to cook. I should know—I baked for 33 years.”

Jackson spoke to reporters from the Civil Courthouse Monday afternoon, and said Collins' coming out was “not a big issue for us”—i.e., the family. Actually, Jackson says her 34-year-old nephew's revelation fits right in with a family that's long fought to blast down barriers. Her parents were civil rights activists and Jackson is the first African American woman to be appointed to the San Francisco Superior Court's bench.

“I don't think he looked at [coming out] as being a trailblazer, but something he had to do,” Jackson said. “My sister and I were the first to integrate our elementary school. I'm the first African American woman to be on the [San Francisco] bench, not because I'm a trailblazer, but because it's right and needs to be done. I hope what Jason is doing will open the door for many others.”

But how will Collins's decision be met in the larger African American community? Back in 2008, studies indicated that a majority of California's African Americans voted for Proposition 8, the ballot proposition that outlawed gay marriage. Yet Jackson said that that wasn't the case in her family. Jackson recalled taking a ballot to the hospital to be filled out by her mother Beatrice Jackson, who was gravely ill. “[I was] thinking she'd first vote for Obama. But she went straight to Prop 8 and voted no. This was a lady born and raised in the South, a member of the Baptist Church, from a pretty conservative background.... She said, 'Where do you think you got your values from from? My father and me. We always taught that discrimination was wrong.' Jason grew up in that environment, so if he can be a role model to strike down any type of father and mother's mission has been accomplished.”

Jackson says she was aware that the SI story would be coming out today, and that Collins is ready for whatever response comes his way (the initial response from NBA players and the league itself has been accepting): “He has no regrets coming out and he wants to play [basketball] and we'll see what happens next. That's what he told me. We'll see what happens, and I have his back.”

Jackson said there's one more person who has her nephew’s back, too: “I believe President Obama has called him today,” she said. “There's a lot of support and acknowledgement that the time has come.”

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