LGBTQ South Florida

Gay former NBA player Jason Collins campaigns in Miami for Clinton

Students Daniel Camacho, left, and Katherine Granados talk to gay former NBA player Jason Collins, center, at Miami Dade College North Campus on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016.
Students Daniel Camacho, left, and Katherine Granados talk to gay former NBA player Jason Collins, center, at Miami Dade College North Campus on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016. For the Miami Herald

Former NBA player Jason Collins, the first openly gay athlete to compete in America’s four major professional sports leagues, is asking young fans to vote for Hillary Clinton — and telling them Donald Trump “stands for everything that I think is the worst in us.”

“I look at the state that our country is in and there are two candidates running for office,” Collins told the Miami Herald before meeting with students Wednesday at Miami Dade College North Campus. “The next president is going to be Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Having Donald Trump as our president is not an option for me. … He plays to people’s fears. He uses language that puts people down or separates us.”

Collins, 37, a longtime pro basketball player who had a brief stint with the Brooklyn Nets after coming out in 2013, is traveling the country campaigning for Clinton.

“She has been a champion for so many different people,” Collins said. “When you look at who’s under her tent and who’s under Trump’s tent, the diversity, the positive feelings, it’s speaking to a future that I want to see my nieces and nephews grow up in. In this country, and they are biracial, where everyone feels welcome, everyone has an opportunity and leadership is so important, who’s sitting in the Oval Office and setting the tone and making sure that our country is moving in the right direction is so key.”

Trump “has been a consistent opponent of marriage equality,” according to Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBTQ rights group.

Collins specifically called out Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who in 2015 signed a religious freedom law that many saw as tolerating discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“[Trump] surrounds himself with people who have a horrible track record when it comes to civil rights and LGBT rights,” Collins said. “You could just look at his vice president — I remember when I was getting ready to go to the Final Four in Indianapolis a couple of years ago when Mike Pence put forth the religious freedom legislation. Right before I was getting ready to go, I remember thinking, ‘When I get there, am I going to be discriminated against?’”

Speaking to about 100 students at Miami Dade College Wednesday afternoon, Collins never actually mentioned Clinton or Trump — the North Campus event, which also featured remarks from Democratic South Florida State Reps. David Richardson and Shevrin Jones, was billed as a voter registration drive based “on civic engagement and LGTBQ awareness.”

The college’s North Campus Student Government Association sponsored the event in collaboration with Pride=Unity, a student organization providing support and awareness for LGBTQ issues.

Alexis Bernal, a Pride=Unity member and environmental science student, called Collins’ speech “pretty inspirational.”

“This is the first time I ever heard a speech from a public athlete and much less someone who’s so popular in the LGBTQ community,” Bernal said. “I want to take home some of the information he said, like choosing your own family, back to my own community.”

Bernal, 18, said he’s still undecided about who to vote for. “This is going to be the most important election ever because really a lot is on the line here. The environment is very much on the line. I also think foreign policy, considering how things are getting heated in the Middle East, in China. Our debt is also through the roof.”

Student Katherine Granados, 20, praised Collins for his courage. “I actually thought it was amazing that we have someone who has been so public in the media and being that he’s an NBA star and how there’s been a stigma between LGBT-identifying sports players, it was just amazing to see him and how he isn’t afraid to say what he thinks and share his story.”

Granados supports Clinton because the former secretary of state “isn’t afraid to support the LGBT community and has been doing a lot of work. Just being very vocal about it. The other candidate has been silent.”

Clinton came out in support of same-sex marriage in 2013 after more than a decade of opposing it.

Daniel Camacho, 21, a psychology student, supports the former first lady, whose husband Bill Clinton signed the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and woman and prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

“For a long time, she’s been for the LGBT community, she’s been campaigning for us,” Camacho said of Hillary Clinton. “Even though she has had a history in which she wasn’t entirely with us, she’s shown change and that she can be a better person and can see the community for what we are: just people.”