For Jason Collins—the retired NBA player who played for the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards—wearing the number 98 on his jersey for most of his 13-season career had special significance. Collins, who came out as gay in 2013 in a cover story for Sports Illustrated, says the number paid respects to Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was tortured and killed because of his sexuality in 1998.
“I remember being a sophomore in college when Matthew Shepherd was killed,” Collins, 39, says. “Every time I put on that jersey, it was just a silent acknowledgment to myself and to my friends and family — who knew why I was wearing that number — of being a proud gay black man playing in the NBA. Sort of hiding in plain sight.”
Collins adds that 1998 also coincides with the founding of The Trevor Project—an organization that provides crisis and suicide prevention to the LGBTQ community—which Collins has become involved in.
In Coming Out Stories, a new video series from PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly, 16 LGBTQ people from all walks of life share how they opened up to friends, family and the world — and how their lives changed.
One inspiration for the series: the new movie Love, Simon (in theaters March 16), a moving comedy-drama about a gay teen (Nick Robinson) struggling with how to come out to his friends and parents (played by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel). Love, Simon director Greg Berlanti (the producer behind TV’s Riverdale and Supergirl) tells his own coming out story in the series, as does costar Keiynan Lonsdale.
Others sharing their stories include Modern Family actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Grey’s Anatomy actress Sara Ramirez, retired NBA player Jason Collins, social media star Tyler Oakley and Brooke Guinan, a New York City firefighter who is transgender.
PEOPLE and EW partnered with GLSEN, a nonprofit that fights to make schools safe for all kids, to create Coming Out Stories. See all the hilarious and heartbreaking tales at people.com/comingoutstories or on PeopleTV (download the app on your favorite mobile or connected TV device).