A few months back, Michael Sam, an All-American defensive lineman from the University of Missouri, publicly revealed that he's gay. Sams was later drafted by the St. Louis Rams, becoming the first openly gay player drafted by the National Football League.
Recently, Raven Symone, who we first came to know and love as little Olivia on the Cosby show, did something quite courageous. Raven made comments that have been called shocking and that some feel are divisive.
No, I'm not talking about the tweet she famously sent out on August 2, 2013, which all but came right out and said that she was gay. That quote from Twitter said, "I can finally get married! Yay government! So proud of you". The tweet was widely considered to be in reference to the Supreme Court's decision to overturn The Defense of Marriage Act.
As I said, that's not what I'm talking about. Rather, a few days back, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Raven made some comments that I think are even more courageous. First, she said that the famous tweet was not her way of "coming out" but rather her way of saying she was proud of her country. OK, that could just be semantics, but what she said next made Oprah jump and yell facetiously, "Stop tape, right now!"
Raven was making a statement about labels when she said that she didn't want to be labeled gay, and explained that she wanted to be labeled a human who loves humans. She went on to say, "I'm an American; I'm not an African American. I'm an American."
Oprah may have been tongue-in-cheek with her shocked reaction to the statements, but I'm sure she was voicing the opinion of some others.
In a day when people are labeled as heroes for coming out with their sexuality and others proclaim their race with a hyphen: Irish-American, African-American, Italian-American; I find it somewhat refreshing to hear someone say that they are just a human and an American. I see Raven's statements as being very freeing and inclusive.
People like to label or categorize other people, and that's understandable. Despite what they say, everyone does it. Some people use it as a way to divide others into groups. Us and them. Others, and I would venture to say, perhaps more "evolved" human beings, just use it as a way to know and understand others.
Many of you know that, in my full time job, I work with troubled boys. There are a lot of issues floating around some of these boys at any given time. Some of them have struggled with being gay in a straight world. Believe me, struggled may be an understatement. I've known kids who have been kicked out of their families, even physically attacked at family gatherings, simply for being "different." It breaks my heart. I cannot imagine hating one of my own children for any reason.
I have had friends and relatives of many, if not most, races, religions, beliefs, and sexual orientations. As I have grown as a human being, I have become more open and accepting of these differences and found that most of these people have something valuable to offer to a relationship. I've learned a lot from them, all the way from changing my views on former beliefs, to solidifying others. I heard one of my favorite preachers once say, "If two people agree on everything, one of them is not needed." While I often wish my wife and I agreed on more things, it is our differences that keep our lives interesting.
I challenge you to find a way to embrace, or at least tolerate, the differences in others. After all, you are different too. Or, as Raven Symone might say, "I am different, and that's what makes me normal."