Robin Roberts Comes Out

Robin_RobertsRobin Roberts, the co-host of Good Morning America on ABC, thanked her longtime girlfriend Amber Laign in a Facebook post on Sunday, December 29:

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.

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.

And with that, Roberts came out. In addition to her professional merits, Roberts has been in the spotlight for her very public battles with breast cancer and myelodysplastic syndrome.

By most accounts, Roberts was out to family and friends for years, just not out publicly. Reactions in general seem mostly muted, except from reliably anti-gay commenters.

And speaking of gay, it seems that “gay” instead of “lesbian” was the headline word of choice:

‘GMA’ anchor Robin Roberts publicly acknowledges she’s gay (CNN)

Robin Roberts Comes Out as Gay (E!)

Robin Roberts: No Secret She Was Gay (TMZ)

Sure, the “Yep, I’m Gay” 1997 Time magazine cover of Ellen DeGeneres used the word “gay” instead of “lesbian” but that was then, as they say. Was the use of “gay” this time around just for headline brevity or as a catch-all phrase?

Why Robin Roberts Coming Out as Gay Isn’t News — But Is Still Significant” by Brent Lang at The Wrap also uses “gay” in the headline, but gives some thoughtful analysis:

Robin Roberts coming out as a lesbian this weekend is not really news, but it’s still significant …

Coming out may be quotidian among celebrities, but discrimination against the LGBT community is alive, rampant and legally sanctioned. As Jack Mirkinson of The Huffington Post notes, the public relations fiasco surrounding A&E’s handling of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson’s anti-gay remarks, shows this form of bigotry is not only tolerated by broad swaths of the population. It’s embraced …

By coming out they are helping people like Phil Robertson recognize that they are on the wrong side of history — and that’s worth a few headlines.

Joseph Beam

joseph_beamBorn: 1954
Died: 1988

“The bottom line is this: We are black men who are proudly gay. What we offer is our lives, our loves, our visions … We are coming home with our heads held up high.”
-Joseph Beam

Joseph Beam is an official honoree today for LGBT History Month 2013, which this year has several HIV-positive honorees.

Joseph Beam was a gay activist and author who worked to foster the acceptance of LGBTs in the African-American community.

Beam became a leader in the black gay community in the early 1980s, writing news articles, essays, poetry and short stories for publications such as The Advocate, Body Politic, Gay Community News and the New York Native, relating the gay experience with the U.S. civil rights movement. In 1984, the Lesbian and Gay Press Association awarded Beam for his outstanding achievement as a minority journalist.

In 1986, he edited and published In the Life, an anthology of work written by largely unknown black gay writers, in response to his frustration over the absence of African American voices in LGBT literature. The anthology is widely regarded as the first of its kind.

Beam was also the founding editor of the national magazine Black/Out, served on the board of directors of the National Coalition of Black Lesbian and Gays, and was a contributing editor for the magazine Blacklight. He also worked as a consultant for the Gay and Lesbian Task Force of the American Friends Service Committee.

In 1988, Joseph Beam died of AIDS-related complications just three days shy of his 34th birthday. In 1991, Beam’s mother and friend published a second anthology of black gay men’s literature, titled Brother to Brother, which Beam was working on at the time of his death.

Go to lgbthistorymonth.com for more information about Beam and the other honorees.

WaPo’s Missing Religious Voices

Based on the reporting of the Washington Post, apparently every religious person in the D.C. area opposes same-sex marriage and almost all of the religious voices are evangelical/Pentecostal African Americans.

You’d never know that D.C. is the home of National Cathedral of the Episcopal Church, two large Catholic universities, and prominent churches inside Mainline congregations, including well-known Methodist, Disciples of Christ, and Presbyterian churches.

Last month, we reported on a GLAAD study that talked about the overrepresentation of Evangelical voices involving LGBT issues and the lack of voices from Mainline protestant and moderate Catholic viewpoints.

The WaPo story tries to do some man-on-the-street (or on the phone) reactions to Obama’s announcement on same-sex marriage, but the Rolodexes at the WaPo seem to only include religious voices opposed to same-sex marriage.

“I’m sorry, I was tickled and proud to see a black president, but I can’t vote for a man who goes against God,” said McMillan, 66, who lives in the Logan Circle area of Northwest. “I don’t believe in skin color more than I believe in God’s word. This president must be part atheist or something.”

And a minster and professor at Howard University:

“I don’t know what he believes,” said Cheryl Sanders, a pastor at the Third Street Church of God in the District’s Mount Vernon neighborhood and a professor of Christian ethics at Howard University’s divinity school. “But it’s okay to change your mind . . . and my sense is that he will probably gain more votes than lose votes.”

Sanders opposes same-sex marriage but says the president’s stance isn’t likely to diminish his support from black voters, just as his support for abortion rights hasn’t chased away blacks who oppose abortion on religious grounds.

Someone who runs a Christian counseling group and is collecting signature to oppose Maryland’s new marriage law”

Unlike Fenton, McManus thinks Obama is on the wrong side of the issue.

McManus, who runs a Christian counseling group in Potomac, doesn’t think Obama acted out of conscience, but rather because he was “outed” when Vice President Biden made his support for same-sex marriage plain last weekend.

“This is a religious country,” McManus said.

Still, he said, views are changing and even churches are reluctant to take a strong stand. He’s been gathering signatures to put a referendum on the Maryland ballot this fall to overturn the new law allowing same-sex marriage, and of the 10 churches he called Wednesday to ask if he could put petitions in their lobbies, eight declined, for fear of alienating divided members, he said.

And then two more African Americans, citing religion for their opposition to same-sex marriage. First, a man on the street:

Although marriage wasn’t a factor for African Americans in Obama’s first campaign, it could be this time, said William Cabell, 49, of Upper Marlboro. Obama’s new stance “threw me for a curve. I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to support him now, because I don’t have the same belief.”

Cabell, a black Democrat, knows he will vote against same-sex marriage in Maryland’s referendum but can’t see casting another ballot for Obama.

“I’d love to be supportive to my president,” said Cabell, who works for the Montgomery County school system. “I have to be loyal to my God.”

And then an African American minister, also opposed to same-sex marriage:

The Rev. Nathaniel Thomas, pastor of Forestville New Redeemer Baptist Church and a leader of the campaign against Maryland’s new marriage law, said Obama’s statement “took the wind out of me. His family image has been great for our community, and now he has allowed another agenda to cloud the great, positive image he created of the black family.”

And another man on the street:

Diana King, an 18-year-old Alexandrian who will vote for the first time this fall, disagrees intensely with Obama on the issue. “God didn’t make people like that,” she said. “He didn’t make two men to have babies together.”

For those of you counting, that’s six religious voices and none of them supportive of same-sex marriage. At least three of those voices are African American.  Every person identified by some racial indicator in the story is opposed to same-sex marriage.

How is that possible?  Did they lose the phone numbers to the National Cathedral, Foundry Methodist, various experts at Georgetown University? Did the call local ministers at churches with gay-affirming policies?

It’s not as though the WaPo doesn’t know that there are African American religious voices who support same-sex marriage because the paper has written about them.  Yet Thomas appears to be the “go-to” voice when they are looking for a comment.

There’s no question that one of the most interesting issues after the announcement was the reaction of African Americans in the D.C. area.  But the lack of diverse voices–both in terms of religion generally and inside the African American community–is a real concern.

HuffPost Gay Voices on Being Out as Journalists

HuffPost Gay Voices is conducting a series of “Voice to Voice” conversations between LGBT authors. They did a few of them for Black History Month. Among them was a conversation between Clay Cane and Janet Mock.

Cane is the entertainment editor for BET.com and the host of Clay Cane Live on WWRL 1600AM in New York City. He’s also contributed to publications such as The Root, theGrio and The Advocate.

Mock is a staff editor at People.com. She earned a GLAAD Award nomination for writing about growing up transgender. This year she was named one of theGrio’s 100 most influential leaders making history today.

In the article, Cane and Mock explore being black and LGBT, homophobia and transphobia. They also discuss their experience with being out as journalists:

Clay Cane: Being out made me a better writer. You can’t sit down with a stranger and get the truth out of them when you’re paranoid about somebody finding out your truth. The truth is, being who I am has never stopped me from getting a job. I wouldn’t have gotten my radio show on WWRL if I had been closeted. What about your coming out as a journalist?

Janet Mock: While making the decision to tell my story, I definitely took on other people’s thoughts about me, internalizing other people’s transphobia. So when I came out publicly, I was armed for people to say awful things about me. Instead, I was overwhelmingly embraced. I wasn’t expecting the love and light that actually came my way, and the opportunities that arose as well because I chose to be open about my journey.

We have come a long way since NLGJA was founded. It’s heartwarming to be reassured that being out as journalists is becoming easier for many of us, although that is still not universally true.

R.I.P. Whitney Houston

If you’re old enough to remember the 1980s, then there is no question that you often heard Whitney Houston’s voice emanating from radios worldwide. Only a handful of solo artists in the past few decades could claim to be in her league at the height of her powers. Her death this past weekend at the age of 48 was sadly premature.

She was still so beloved that ratings of the Grammys about doubled from last year with about 40 million viewers, second only to 1984 when Michael Jackson won his Thriller awards. People tuned in to hear Jennifer Hudson sing in tribute the Dolly Parton song “I Will Always Love You” that Houston made famous.

Depending on the media outlet, the coverage of Houston’s death ranged from scandalous to respectful. That’s to be expected in the case of any famous person, but the alleged circumstances of her death only heightened the interest. The official cause of death has not been released, but most people assume drugs contributed.

It’s that assumption that has fueled some of the most distasteful coverage, but also some of the most inspiring. An example was “The Last Word” with Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC, which dedicated the entire hour two days after her death. He originally had guests for another segment on politics that he bumped to continue the lofty conversation. Drugs and alcohol were discussed, but in the context of addiction and recovery.

In the mix was the delicate issue of discussing lesbian rumors. I didn’t see any references in broadcast media, but I did see a few online. An article at Advocate.com the day after her death was complementary, especially about her attitude concerning LGBT people. It did include, however, her denial from a 2000 interview of the lesbian rumors. TheDailyBeast.com took it up a notch two days after her death with an entire article dedicated to exploring the lesbian rumors.

We’ve come a long way from the days of Malcolm Forbes, when Michelangelo Signorile reported after he died that Forbes was gay. That was the start of the “outing” controversy, which remains to this day but greatly diminished. I believe it is fair to say that a majority of people think there is nothing wrong with asking celebrities if they’re gay.

My discomfort is not in the asking or discussing as it is in the timing. As the saying goes for jokes about dead celebrities — “Too soon?” — perhaps it’s too soon to be indulging in rumors, or at least a version of events that Houston denied. There will be plenty of time to dive into the juicy details of her life, but could we at least wait until after the funeral?