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Sign of the times: Obama calls to congratulate first openly gay NBA player

President Barack Obama called Jason Collins Monday night to congratulate him on his courage for being the first athlete on a major American sports team to come out as gay.

During a Tuesday morning press conference, Obama shared a bit of their conversation. He said Collins seemed like a terrific young man and that he was proud of him for the decision, and called him a great role model for young athletes and the younger generation.

"The LGBT community deserves full equality, not just partial equality," the president said. He concluded with the statement that "we judge people on the basis of their character and their performance, and not their sexual orientation."

White House spokesperson Jay Carney was quoted in The Hill as putting it this way: "Here at the White House we view this as another example of the progress we've made and the evolution that has taken place," Carney said. "We commend him on his courage and support him in this effort and hope that his fans and his team support him going forward."

In addition, and in another sign of the times, first lady Michelle Obama sent a tweet to Collins:

So proud of you, Jason Collins! This is a huge step forward for our country. We’ve got your back! –mo

The 7-foot, 255-pound center played for the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards during this past season. He is currently a free agent.

This week Collins came out in an essay he wrote for Sports Illustrated. He said that his friend Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) helped him to make this decision after talking about marching in a gay pride parade, because he supports the civil rights of gays, even though he is straight.

Collins put it simply in his essay: "I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay."

On Tuesday, the subject of Collins’ decision to come out was on all the talk programs. Collins himself appeared on "Good Morning America" and said that a "huge weight" had been lifted from his shoulders. The "Today" show had tennis legend Martina Navratilova on as a guest. She is a longtime advocate of gay rights, who decades ago was one of the first female athletes to come out. Navratilova praised Collins’ move and said it will make things better if it prevents even one young man from taking his own life in the self-identity struggle that every gay human being must transcend.

“He will sleep better at night,” Navratilova concluded.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive, with support extended by other NBA players such as Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.

Obama had always been a supporter of gay rights, but admittedly struggled with the issue of gay marriage until coming out on the other side of his own personal journey in support of its legalization.

The Supreme Court is anticipated to rule on two gay marriage cases sometime in June. LGBT advocates hope the justices are noticing the cultural shift that has been taking place and the history that is being made.

Obama is on the right side of this civil and human rights issue, and Jason Collins, who was hoping someone else would be the first to step up, deserves credit for raising his hand.

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Jean Williams, environmental and political journalist; PrairieDogPress writer; Artistic Director, Keystone Prairie Dogs.***PrairieDogPress is the media channel for keystone-prairie-dogs.com, which is a fundraising website to support environmental groups for extraordinary efforts to protect Great Plains habitat and prairie dogs in the wild. PDP uses humorous images, social commentary and serious-minded political reports to challenge government on numerous levels, including accountability to the people, the protection of threatened species, the environment and Earth’s natural resources.