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We need more kisses

(Jeff Curry / USA Today Sports )
May 20, 2014|By Zach Stafford | For RedEye

On the final day of the 2014 NFL draft, Michael Sam sat in his agent's San Diego, Calif., home, waiting for a call that would change his life.

The draft has been televised for years, with camera crews waiting to catch the almost-certain emotional moment when NFL hopefuls are chosen. Most of the time, these celebrations are filled with kissing and affection, played over and over as experts analyze the players' futures.

Michael Sam's moment was no different -- when he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams, he got emotional and kissed his boyfriend, just like his fellow picks did with their girlfriends. But when the image of two men kissing flashed across TV screens, many viewers, even some who are supportive of LGBT rights, cringed. Some have even decided to boycott the Rams.

Over the past years, the LGBT movement has made unprecedented strides toward equality. From marriage to the media, and now in sports, it seems LGBT people are on track to be more represented than ever. That's why the outrage over Sam's kiss is so important. Even as marriage rolls across America, as more openly LGBT people join professional sports teams, TV shows or the armed forces, we still aren't there. LGBT people are OK, as long as they stay behind closed doors -- and especially off sports networks.

The LGBT movement's goal has been tolerance, and we allowed ourselves to buy into the falsehood that tolerance is enough. That we don't need everyone to like us, but instead just deal with us. That's starting to seem like a failed strategy. It allows people like retired NFL player Derrick Ward to tweet: "I'm sorry but that Michael Sam is no bueno for doing that on national tv. I'm fine with it being a new day in age but for him to do that on National tv is disgusting. Gay or not."

Instead of tolerance, we need to begin pushing for acceptance. That's more than voting "yes" for marriage. Acceptance also means watching ESPN without cringing when two men kiss. It's allowing same-sex people to walk down the street without fearing that one kiss will send them to the hospital.

And honestly, it's allowing same-sex couples to be as boring and mundane as straight people are.

LGBT people need to be shown as more than a marriage victory or allowance into the military. We need to be seen as whole people who love, laugh, hurt, cry and, most importantly, kiss people when we are happy. Because really, at the end of the day, it's just a kiss.

Zach Stafford is a RedEye special contributor.

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