New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn, who is in a race to become the city's first openly gay mayor, hailed the country’s first pro basketball athlete for coming out on Monday.

Speaker Quinn said Washington Wizards center Jason Collins’ declaration that he is gay will “literally save lives” of gay kids who view pro athletes as role models.

"This is a great day. This is a really significant day. I want to thank Jason for what he's done. It is not easy to come out of the closet on any day in any profession, but we know that professional sports have never been a particularly welcoming place to the LGBT community as athletes or staff.

“That's why we're seeing only the first one in 2013. What he has done today is going to open a door for all other athletes moving forward,” Quinn told reporters at an unrelated press conference in the Bronx.

Quinn, a long time gay rights advocate, married her long term partner Kim Catullo last year.

She continued: “But lets think about something else: There'll be sometime soon, and maybe it will be Jason, or maybe it will be somebody else, where a young boy and a young girl are sitting with their mom and dad and they're watching the NBA finals they're watching the Superbowl they're watching the World Series and there on the screen is going to be an openly gay athlete. And that little boy maybe he thinks he's gay, maybe he knows he's gay, and maybe he sat all alone in his room upset and now there's going to be somebody on TV at a sporting event, something families watch together.

“What Jason did today isn't just going to help other athletes, it's literally going to save lives. Because it's going to send a message to a boy like that that it's OK, that the greatest athletes - who are children's heroes more than athletes - are also LGBT, and it might create a moment in that discussion about the layup or that discussion about the home run or the punter's kick to talk about how that child is feeling.”

The mayoral hopeful praised the work of the group Athlete Ally, a non profit group which  encourages those involved in sports to combat homophobia.

“I just want to thank him, he will literally save lives and change the face of professional sports in our country,” she said.

Former U.S.president Bill Clinton also tweeted to show his support of Collins’s announcement.

“I’m proud to call Jason Collins a friend,” Clinton tweeted to his 545,000 followers.

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Council Speaker Christine QuinnGoogle Images