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Friday, April 28, 2017

Hernandez and Homophobia

Written by  Brian George Hose
Such a waste – Aaron Hernandez Such a waste – Aaron Hernandez

Aaron Hernandez wasn’t exactly a good guy. The former NFL star and tight end for the New England Patriots was serving a life sentence for murder without the possibility for parole before his suicide on the morning of April 19th. Some celebrated his death, posting memes on social media with messages like, “Life Sentence. Hang in there, Aaron.” In fact, most of these messages involved variations of the “hang in there” sentiment. This is rather cold, considering that Hernandez hanged himself in his prison cell. He may have been a monster, but that doesn’t mean we have to be monsters too.

To be clear, I’m not defending him or what he did. I didn’t even know who he was until I started seeing memes on Facebook. After some research, I learned that Hernandez was secretly bisexual, which may have played a role in the murder that landed him in prison. The victim, Odin Lloyd, was involved with the sister of Hernandez’s fiancee and knew his secret; Hernandez may have killed him to avoid being outed as bisexual.

It’s this piece that’s important because the crime is a reflection of both Hernandez and our society as a whole. I have to wonder why staying on the DL was so important to a successful athlete who had signed a seven-year contract for $40 million. By any measure, Hernandez was wildly successful and seemed to have everything going for him. Except that life isn’t always easy for public figures after they come out. Some people are celebrated, some are villified; and, when they are villified, it’s usually us (society) holding the burning torches and forming an angry mob. Maybe this is why Hernandez valued his secret so much he would kill to maintain it.

It seems that Hernandez was conflicted about his sexuality for years. His pre-NFL draft scouting report from 2010 states: “Self-esteem quite low; not well-adjusted emotionally, not happy, moods unpredictable.” Again, this seems strange considering he was being scouted for the NFL, until you consider that Hernandez allegedly maintained a relationship with a male classmate he met in high school. When I read this, my image of Hernandez changed. Suddenly he was an insecure young adult, afraid to come out of the closet because he knew there would be consequences. As we’ve learned from repeated tragedies, young adults identifying as LGBTQ are much more vulnerable to suicidal thoughts and actions than their heterosexual peers. They are also more likely to experience depression and anxiety both before and after they come out. Which, again, points a finger at society and the way we treat others who are different.

I think it’s easy to take for granted all the strides our community has made. Younger generations can’t fully understand or appreciate the experiences of older generations because the world is a different place now, thanks to those who came before us. But policy and reality don’t always line up. Having marriage equality doesn’t mean we aren’t still vulnerable to homophobia and various other forms of hatred. Instead, it’s an acknowledgement that we deserve equality in an unfair world, that homophobia still exists.

Sometimes I feel like I’m forever standing on a soapbox, preaching the importance of acceptance, tolerance, and respect for others. I wonder if the world had been a more welcoming place for Hernandez if things would have turned out differently, just as I wonder how things would be different if our community hadn’t lost so many to suicide and hate crimes. Perhaps all these lost souls and the people who mourn them are the true price of homophobia.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255. Call if you or someone you know is in despair.

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