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Robin Roberts comes out — take that Duck Dynasty

Robin Roberts, ABC, gay news, Washington Blade

Robin Roberts (Photo public domain)

Sometimes I wonder if we should care any more when a celeb comes out. When seemingly every couple you know is planning their same-sex wedding; openly LGBT politicos serve in the U.S. Congress; and gay hosts are an indelible part of awards shows – what difference does it make if someone in the public eye is openly queer? Yet when Robin Roberts, an anchor of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” recently came out as a lesbian, I felt as if a cultural milestone had been reached.

Back in the day, we rarely saw (openly) LGBT people on TV. The few images of gay life then showed us to be “deviant,” monstrous or “sick.” An out game show host, sit-com star — let alone news anchor — would have been inconceivable. If Jane Pauley, Bryant Gumbel, Joan Lunden, David Hartman, Tom Brokaw or any of the many morning shows co-hosts over the years had been gay, their careers would have ended instantly if they’d left the closet. When Ellen came out, you’d have thought the Apocalypse had arrived. News outlets blazed with the story and her career, for a time, hit the skids.

It’s hard to imagine a morning show anchor coming out even five years ago without risking being fired and unleashing vociferous homophobia. If an anchor had opted to be openly gay then, the announcement would have entailed as much choreography as a Busby Berkeley production number. The complex, nervous dance would have involved publicists, magazine covers and handwringing over sponsors and ratings.

Yet Roberts’ coming out on Dec. 29, like that of many celebs lately, appeared almost as an aside. As is often the case now with revelations from news anchors, actors and others, Roberts bypassed old school outlets for social media. Most tellingly, no Barbara Walters interview or “After School” type special was involved. In 2012, Roberts had a bone marrow transplant to treat a rare blood disorder. “I am grateful for my entire family, my long time girlfriend, Amber, and friends as we prepare to celebrate a glorious new year together,” she wrote in a Facebook post on her recovery.

Far from firing her, ABC supported Roberts. “We love Robin and Amber, who we have all known for a long time,” the network said in a statement, “We were so touched by Robin’s Facebook message today and so thankful for all the loving support she has in her life.”

The Twitterverse lit up with love for Roberts.  “I am so happy for you and Amber!  You continue to make us all proud – mo,” Michelle Obama tweeted.

“Go on with your bad self,” comedian and actress Wanda Sykes wrote on Twitter.

“Sending good thoughts to Robin Roberts#Loveislove,” wrote Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons.

Sure, nearly every celeb seems to be queer now, and another famous person coming out can be as exciting as your BFF’s sister’s Facebook status update. Yet, Roberts’ coming out matters.

Broadcast TV doesn’t have the power it had in the days of Yesteryear. TV audiences today are fragmented, smaller and many of us watch shows (or pieces of shows) on mobile devices.  But the TV morning shows still earn big profits and ratings. The hosts of these programs continue to serve as our morning “families” and to kick-start pop culture. A politician who appears on “Today” or “Good Morning America” makes news and a movie or book plugged on these shows is likely to do well.

The TV show morning co-hosts have to daily “appear alive and alert and attractive on the air…no matter how sleepy or stressed or ugly they really feel,” writes Brian Stelter, author of “Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV.”

Homophobia remains alive and well. Think “Duck Dynasty.” Roberts will encounter haters.  Still, an anchor of the No. 1 morning TV show in America coming out is a moment to celebrate.

07
Jan
2014

A reality check from Uganda

Yoweri Museveni, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a bill that imposes harsh sentences on LGBT Ugandans. (Photo by the U.K. Department for International Development; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

Our movement for full equality for LGBT people continues to gain momentum. We’ve seen tremendous strides in terms of marriage equality (a total of 17 states now grant the freedom to marry) and most recently with the increased visibility of black LGBT public figures. But Uganda’s current crisis and the close call in Arizona remind us that we must remain vigilant—that despite the many trails being blazed, we are still very much in the heat of the battle and all is not won yet.

Basketball star Jason Collins recently made history as the first openly gay male player in a major sports league when he joined the Brooklyn Nets. Earlier this year, Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts spoke about her longtime girlfriend for the first time on national television. Trans legends-in-the-making Laverne Cox, breakout actress of the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black, hate crime survivor CeCe McDonald, and New York Times bestselling author Janet Mock are leading the national conversation around transgender equality.

On the policy front, a U.S. district judge ruled that Texas’ ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional. The Maryland State Senate recently passed the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, a bill that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity, which now heads to the House. And Washington, D.C. now requires insurance companies to provide health coverage to trans residents, including gender reassignment surgery.

Paints a pretty picture of progress, doesn’t it? Well, look a little closer.

Just this month alone, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a bill that imposes harsh sentences on LGBT Ugandans; Arizona passed then vetoed a piece of legislation that would have made it legal for business owners to discriminate against LGBT customers; and the 2014 Olympics brought to light the persecution of our Russian brothers and sisters. This all happened in February, the shortest month of the year. Even worse, it happened on our watch.

Under Ugandan’s anti-gay law, anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts will be sentenced to life in prison. President Museveni has cited “science” and other unfounded claims to justify this atrocious injustice against our black LGBT family overseas. Not only is it imperative that the U.S. Department of State expedite the asylum process for all Ugandans affected by this oppressive and inhumane law, it is critical that the U.S. take responsibility for and address its ties to homophobia in African countries. The truth is that when the radical right started losing ground on American soil, they invested their anti-LGBT tactics elsewhere and capitalized on a painful legacy of colonialism and white supremacy.

Addressing what is happening in Uganda goes deeper than threatening to pull U.S. foreign aid. Furthermore, our national response to what is happening in the East African nation and in countries like Nigeria speaks to our complacency and lack of urgency around matters that are literally life and death for black and brown LGBT bodies.

After Arizona’s legislature passed the controversial SB 1062, some Ugandans pointed out our hypocrisy. Everyone from local advocates to President Obama condemned the Ugandan bill, but we could barely get our own affairs together stateside. The biggest irony was the hundreds of activists that rallied and urged Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the Arizona legislation. Where were the crowds for our Ugandan brothers and sisters who will be trying to seek asylum?

It’s time we truly treat a threat to injustice anywhere with the gravity it deserves. It’s time we recognize that progress takes full partnership. Despite of our recent advancements, we still need all hands on deck, especially when it’s the lives of black LGBT people at stake—because chances are the level of outrage and action will be utterly delayed, if present.

National campaigns launched around the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, speaking against the country’s ban on so-called “LGBT propaganda.” And rightfully so. There are laws that limit adoption by same-sex couples and Russian President Vladimir Putin has equated LGBT people to pedophiles. But where was the mass mobilization when a Ugandan tabloid printed a list of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Ugandans with their photographs—a “witch hunt” reminiscent of the 2010 paper that ran both photos and addresses with the heinous headline “Hang Them?” Where was the global outcry?

That is why here at the National Black Justice Coalition, we are revising our institutional policy to take a stand internationally. We have begun turning directly to advocates abroad and asking what is the international support that they need. Going forward, increasing acceptance and respect for black LGBT people in every corner of the globe will guide the organization’s agenda as we continue to build a safer and more inclusive nation and world.

Our movement has certainly come a long way but we have so much further to go. Uganda is our reality check. And it doesn’t get realer than that.

Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks serves as executive director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, a national civil rights organization dedicated to empowering black LGBT people. For more information, visit nbjc.org.

19
Mar
2014

GMA’s Robin Roberts comes out

Robin Roberts, ABC, gay news, Washington Blade

Robin Roberts (Photo public domain)

“Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts came out officially in a Facebook post that for the first time publicly acknowledged her long-standing relationship with a woman, several outlets including Variety reported.

“At this moment I am at peace and filled with joy and gratitude. I am grateful to God, my doctors and nurses for my restored good health,” she wrote. “I am grateful for my sister, Sally-Ann, for being my donor and giving me the gift of life. I am grateful for my entire family, my long time girlfriend, Amber, and friends as we prepare to celebrate a glorious new year together. I am grateful for the many prayers and well wishes for my recovery. I return every one of them to you 100 fold. On this last Sunday of 2013 I encourage you to reflect on what you are grateful for too.”

Roberts is referring to her 2012 battle with myleodysplastic syndrome. ABC acknowledged to Variety Roberts’ 10-year relationship with Amber Laign, a massage therapist. Variety has more here.

30
Dec
2013

Pastor criticizes gay weatherman’s wedding

Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Marriage

Sam Champion weds Rubem Robierb in New York City. (Photo courtesy of Ida Astute)

PENSACOA, Fla.—A Florida minister on Sunday criticized “Good Morning America” for airing portions of Sam Champion’s wedding.

“When they showed Sam Champion marrying a man on ‘Good Morning America,’ I just about fell out of my chair,” Pastor Gordon Godfrey, Jr., of Marcus Pointe Baptist Church, said.

Godfrey also spoke out against the ABC sitcom “Modern Family” during the 34 minute sermon.

Champion, who came out in October, married his long-time partner Rubem Robierb in New York City in December. “Good Morning America” co-anchors Robin Roberts, Lara Spencer and Josh Elliott were among those who attended the wedding.

21
Feb
2013

Sam Champion marries long-time partner

Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Marriage

Sam Champion weds Rubem Robierb in New York City. (Photo courtesy of Ida Astute)

Gay “Good Morning America” weather anchor Sam Champion on Friday afternoon married artist Rubem Robierb in New York City.

“Good Morning America” co-anchors Lara Spencer, Josh Elliott and other friends and family members attended the ceremony that took place at Champion’s Manhattan apartment. Robin Roberts read an Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem, while Robierb’s mother and sisters in Brazil watched the ceremony through Skype.

New York State Supreme Court Justice George J. Silver officiated the wedding.

Champion came out on-air in October when he announced he and Robierb were engaged.

An ABC News press release that announced the couple had married said they plan to have a party in Miami, where Robierb lives, on Dec. 31 to further celebrate their wedding.

22
Dec
2012

Year in review: Better late than never: Anderson Cooper comes out

Anderson Cooper, CNN, gay news, Washington Blade

Anderson Cooper (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A number of celebrities, politicians and other officials came out during 2012.

CNN anchor Anderson Cooper publicly acknowledged being gay for the first time in a statement gay commentator Andrew Sullivan posted to his blog on July 2. Sam Champion, weather anchor for “Good Morning America,” announced on-air in October that he was engaged to his long-time partner, photographer Rubem Robierb. (The couple attended a Freedom to Marry fundraiser in Miami Beach, Fla., a few days later.)

Gay singer Ricky Martin was among those who applauded Puerto Rican boxer Orlando Cruz after he came out on Oct. 3. R&B singer Frank Ocean in July acknowledged his homosexuality, while Jamaican singer Diana King came out on her Facebook page in June. British singer Mika told Instinct Magazine in August he is gay.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Mike Fleck, a Republican who attended Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., earlier this month came out during an interview with a local newspaper. Stefany Hoyer Hemmer, daughter of House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.,) came out as a lesbian during an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade in June.

“My father, as you know, just came out in support of gay marriage,” she said. “The momentum in Maryland right now for the adoption of the gay marriage law is fast-paced. I’m 43 years of age, and I’ve been gay my whole life and I just figured this is a good time to lend my name to the cause.”

DC Comics in June announced the Green Lantern is gay as part of its effort to reinvigorate the “Earth 2” series.

27
Dec
2012