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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

New book on marriage equality assailed as ‘travesty’

Human Rights Campaign, American Foundation for Equal Rights, AFER, HRC, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, Virginia, Chad Griffin, Tom Shuttleworth, Carol Schall, Emily, Mary Townley, Adam Umhoefer, David Boies, Ted Olson, Tim Bostic, Washington Blade, Tony London

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin is lionized in “Forcing the Spring” for his role in the marriage movement. (Blade file by Michael Key)

A new book on the advancement of marriage equality and the lawsuit that overturned Proposition 8 is stirring controversy over its lionization of HRC President Chad Griffin and its depiction of the federal lawsuit he helped initiate against the California ban.

The book, “Forcing the Spring,” was written by Jo Becker, a New York Times journalist who was embedded with Griffin and the Prop 8 team as their lawsuit moved forward. The book hit shelves on Tuesday, but has already incurred the ire of many in the LGBT movement who say it heaps too much praise on Griffin and ignores others who led the marriage equality effort for decades.

The notion that Griffin, a board member of American Foundation for Equal Rights, is the hero who saved the marriage equality movement pervades the 437-page work.

One part of the book that addresses his move to D.C. in 2012 to become head of the Human Rights Campaign includes a farewell discussion in which fellow AFER board member Rob Reiner says of Griffin, “If there ever is going to be — and there will be at some point — the first gay president, you’re looking at him.”

As noted by gay blogger Andrew Sullivan in his tirade against the book, “Forcing the Spring” opens with a comparison of Griffin and civil rights icon Rosa Parks, saying a revolution begins when someone “grows tired of standing idly by” against the tide of injustice.

“It begins when a black seamstress named Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a bus to white man in the segregated South,” Becker writes. “And in this story, it begins with a handsome, bespectacled thirty-five-year old political consultant named Chad Griffin, in a spacious suite at the Westin St. Francis hotel in San Francisco on election night 2008.”

It’s this comparison between Griffin and the iconic figure of the black civil rights movement that Sullivan, who helped pioneer the idea of same-sex marriage in the 1990s, says is only the start of “jaw-dropping distortion” throughout the book.

Andrew Lane, a prominent New York-based gay donor, called the book a “travesty” and said Becker knew that was the case as she was putting the book together.

“She chose to give us a shallow and incomplete history that fetishizes the role of celebrities and PR hacks and either trashes or ignores the real heroes who fought for years to help make the moment possible,” Lane said. “That vapid gay men are attempting to re-write history by centering themselves is not news. That they conscripted a New York Times reporter to do the heavy lifting for them certainly is.”

HRC didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on the perception that Griffin and the Prop 8 case are given undue credit in the book for their role in the marriage equality movement.

A significant portion of the book is devoted to the behind-the-scenes action leading to President Obama’s announcement in favor of marriage equality in 2012. Although Obama campaigned in 2008 in opposition to same-sex marriage (despite supporting it in 1996), he later said he could evolve on the issue, leading to his announcement in favor of same-sex marriage during his re-election campaign.

According to the book, when Vice President Joseph Biden appeared to endorse same-sex marriage on NBC’s “Meet the Press” just days before Obama’s announcement, the White House reacted furiously. In a chain of emails sent through the White House, senior adviser to the president Valerie Jarrett through an intermediary accused Biden of “downright disloyalty.”

Griffin gets credit as a key voice for moving these evolutions forward. A passage in the book recounts Griffin briefly asking the president during a fundraiser, “How can we help you evolve more quickly?” Obama gave a non-committed response, but pointed to his work on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the Defense of Marriage Act as evidence of his commitment to LGBT rights.

Further, it recounts Griffin attending a Los Angeles fundraiser with Biden prior to his appearance on “Meet the Press.” After Griffin asked Biden what he really thinks about marriage equality, the vice president said being against it in the future will be a “political liability.” A top Biden aide is quoted as saying it was a moment when “his hard drive got erased.”

John Aravosis, editor of AMERICAblog, criticized the depiction of Griffin as being a driving factor in Obama’s evolution, especially because others who contributed to the effort — like his own blogger who got Obama to say he could evolve on marriage — are absent from the book.

“I had high hopes for Chad taking over HRC, and said so publicly, but I don’t honestly know what Chad did to get the president to evolve on marriage,” Aravosis said. “You wouldn’t know it from Jo Becker’s self-proclaimed ‘definitive account’ of the gay marriage battle these past five years, but the president used that word in response to a question from then-AMERICAblog deputy editor Joe Sudbay, who questioned the president in the White House in October of 2010. Becker gives neither Joe, nor AMERICAblog, any credit, for the now-famous answer.”

Also depicted as contributing to Obama’s evolution on marriage is Ken Mehlman, the former head of the Republican National  Committee who came out as gay in 2010. Mehlman attended Harvard with Obama, so the two had known each other for decades.

According to the book, Mehlman e-mailed Obama senior adviser David Plouffe some talking points and suggested soft lighting for the interview and that it be conducted by a female reporter (it ended up being Robin Roberts of “Good Morning America,” who was closeted at the time).

It’s not the first time the events leading up to Obama’s announcement in favor of same-sex marriage have been reported. The 2013 book “Double Down,” which chronicles Obama’s re-election campaign, also discusses the lead-up to the endorsement. The book similarly recounts the fervor in the White House after Biden’s words on “Meet the Press” and Mehlman’s advice to Obama for his interview, although Griffin makes no appearance in that narrative.

While praising Griffin, the book doesn’t present as favorable an image of other leaders in the marriage equality movement. Among them is Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, who spoke out on marriage equality when it was much less popular — even among LGBT rights groups — in the 1990s.

One portion of the book disparages Wolfson for having unkind words for “Milk” screenwriter and AFER board member Dustin Lance Black after he pledged in his Oscar acceptance speech that equal rights will come very soon for gay people across America.

“Wolfson had berated the younger man over his Oscar speech, explaining as though to a willing but ignorant child his ongoing, twenty-five year plan to build support for marriage equality,” Becker writes. “Twenty-five years? Black had practically gasped. But he had said little; it was intimidating, to say the least, to be dressed down by a pioneer of the marriage equality movement.”

In response to a Blade inquiry on whether he’s given a fair shake in the book, Wolfson spoke in holistic terms on progress made on marriage equality and future goals to advance it further.

“As a movement, we have secured a strong majority of public support for the freedom to marry and a critical mass of Americans living in marriage states,” Wolfson said. “Together, we gutted the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and, as we again head toward the Supreme Court, have built irrefutable momentum showing America is ready. But we are not done. Freedom to Marry is going to stay focused on finishing the job and achieving the goal we’ve long been aiming toward: winning marriage nationwide.”

Another person whose role is minimized in the book is Mary Bonauto, the civil rights director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, who successfully argued the case almost 11 years ago that brought marriage equality to Massachusetts, making it the first state in the country with same-sex marriage. She has also led efforts against the Defense of Marriage Act.

Her role in “Forcing the Spring” is reduced to commending the Prop 8 lawsuit for enabling a trial of the issue of marriage equality. “They turned that trial into a truth commission,” Bonauto is quoted as saying of the attorneys behind the lawsuit.

Carisa Cunningham, a GLAD spokesperson, dismissed the omission of Bonauto’s work on marriage equality by saying the book was meant to capture the narrative of another effort to advance the cause.

“This book wasn’t Mary’s story, and it’s clearly not a history of the movement,” Cunningham said. ”Someday someone will write a book about Mary, and in the meantime, Mary’s story has been told in plenty of public ways and she and GLAD get a lot of well-deserved credit. We’re in it for the work – on principle and how it makes a difference in people’s lives.”

Cunningham also criticized the depiction of Griffin in the book, saying although he offered significant contributions to advancing marriage equality, the book “may do a disservice to those contributions by portraying him as a savior of the movement.”

But the crux of the book is that the lawsuit against Prop 8 litigated by Ted Olson and David Boies restructured the marriage movement. The title itself, “Forcing the Spring,” suggests the Prop 8 case was responsible for bringing marriage equality to the entire country — or at least getting the ball rolling for successes in other states besides California.

But it was the decision in the DOMA case — not the Prop 8 case — that established legal precedent enabling courts since that ruling to rule in favor of marriage equality in now 10 states. The U.S. Supreme Court on the Prop 8 case sidestepped the merits of whether a state can ban same-sex marriage, ruling that proponents of the law had no standing to defend the ban in court after California state officials declined to do so.

The conclusion of Becker’s account gives credit to the lawsuit against DOMA, but says the arguments in the Prop 8 case influenced U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision in striking down the federal law.

“By intertwining arguments from both cases, Kennedy gave the Windsor decision a heft and precedential value it might not otherwise have had, providing powerful legal ammunition for a slew of future challenges to state bans on same-sex marriage,” Becker writes.

It should be noted, as previously reported by the Blade, that Olson and Boies’ assistance in the Prop 8 lawsuit came with a hefty $6.4 million price tag. Moreover, HRC, now headed by Griffin, was among the nine signatories of a letter that came out the day before the Prop 8 lawsuit was filed and urged restraint in taking the case to court.

“It is by no means clear that a federal challenge to Prop. 8 can win now,” the letter says. “And an unsuccessful challenge may delay marriage even longer, not only in California but in other states, and seriously damage the rights of LGBT people on many other important issues.”

Nonetheless, HRC in the past week has been promoting the book and its depiction of the Prop 8 case in various blog postings on the organization’s website. One March 26 posting in the weeks prior to the publication of the book calls it “an unparalleled testament to the last five years in the American civil rights movement.”

Suzanne Goldberg, co-director for Columbia University’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, said she’s read the Becker book and faulted Becker for not telling the Prop 8 story in a way that better shows its place among other contributions to the marriage movement.

“I think the Perry case was, along with other cases, legislative and community-based advocacy, influential in shaping the marriage equality movement,” Goldberg said. ”The problem with Jo Becker’s book is not the up-close story she tells about the Prop 8 case and media work, which in itself is interesting, but rather the uncritical telling of that story as an account of the marriage equality movement. There are numerous places where she gives both the case and the media advocates far more credit for inventing advocacy strategies and changing the landscape than either deserves.”

22
Apr
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

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

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