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In dismissing his own coming out, Olympian Shawn Barber misses a big point

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I hate the word ‘should.’ As in, ‘being a gay athlete should not be a story.’

IAAF World Indoor Championships - Day 1
Shawn Barber is one of Canada’s most high-profile out athletes.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images for IAAF

If you are LGBTQ and considering suicide, The Trevor Project is there to help. You can visit their Web site or call their hotline at 866-488-7386.

I hate the word “should.”

People use it to dismiss and demean the stories of LGBT people in sports all the time. Their coming out “should” not be a big story. People “should” not care if an athlete is gay.

Yet... they do. “Should” has no connection to reality. And the reality of North American sports in 2017 is that zero men in our Big Four sports leagues — NFL, MLB, NBA & NHL — are publicly out. Robbie Rogers is openly gay in Major League Soccer, yet he’s on injured reserve, has been all season, and may never play again.

The idea that an athlete’s sexual orientation “should” not be a story is a lovely pipe dream, but it is not yet reality.

What makes matters worse is that it’s often the homophobiest of people who prop up this “who cares” mentality about LGBT athletes. People who would rather LGBT not exist often use this concept to dismiss powerful and inspirational coming-out stories of LGBT people in sports.

So when a prominent out athlete, like Olympian Shawn Barber, says “this should not be a big deal,” I cringe a bit.

I understand in part what he’s trying to say. It’s a hope that he and other LGBT athletes can just go about their business and never have to answer another question about who they are.

Yet that’s simply not reality. We can hope and wish that were the case, but it’s not.

The suicide rate for LGBT teens is still astronomically high. The coming-out stories we run on Outsports routinely show how close so many of those young people have come to killing themselves.

Since coming out publicly in a Facebook post, Barber has pulled back. He has canceled his appearance at meets. He has avoided the media. He has even made his Facebook page impossible to find.

Not every gay athlete has to be a vocal advocate. Some just aren’t suited for it, and others just aren’t ready or interested in that.

I just don’t like hearing them belittle the whole experience.

Whether Barber thinks his being gay “shouldn’t be” a big deal or not, it is. We don’t live in world of what should and shouldn’t be, we live in a world of reality, and reality is, as long as kids keep killing themselves because they are LGBT and people try to target our equality, an Olympian being gay is a big deal.

For now, he doesn’t seem to want to be very publicly out. So be it. There is a growing number of other LGBT people in sports who are willing to blaze a trail for other youth.

Hopefully, as Barber becomes more comfortable with being out, he’ll lend his voice a bit more and understand we’re still in a place where his story “should” be told.

Either way, we’ll still be cheering for him at every meet and hoping he can become an Olympic champion in a couple years.

If you are LGBTQ and considering suicide, The Trevor Project is there to help. You can visit their Web site or call their hotline at 866-488-7386.