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.

Jenna Wolfe’s big news: She’s pregnant (and gay)

By Matthew E. Berger (NLGJA board member and vice president of Dezenhall Resources, a crisis communications firm in Washington, D.C.)

It’s been a pretty big week so far for LGBT news, with the much anticipated two days of hearings before the U.S. Supreme Court on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. But I was also struck by the other LGBT media news of the week, how it was handled and what the headline was not.

Jenna Wolfe, the weekend anchor of NBC’s “Today,” announced on air Wednesday that she was pregnant and having a baby with fellow NBC News correspondent Stephanie Gosk. In the segment, Wolfe bantered with Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie about buying strollers and breast pumps, and said she’d be blogging about her pregnancy adventures. Then they went to commercial.

It was typical for a morning program, and not unlike what had happened several months previously when Jenna Bush Hager announced her pregnancy on air (although George W. and Laura Bush didn’t call in this time).

Here’s what wasn’t said: Wolfe and Gosk, who was not in the segment, never mentioned the previously undisclosed news that they were both gay.

While not a household name like Anderson Cooper or Sam Champion, Wolfe is seen regularly on television, yet hadn’t been the subject of rampant rumors. She was choosing to make an announcement of her pregnancy, not of her sexual orientation, and she did it not because of outside pressure or as an act of advocacy, but because she had something exciting to share, and presumably because her audience was going to notice.

Wolfe, Gosk and NBC News didn’t shy away from the fact that the two women are lesbians. But it was never said, not because of shame or embarrassment, but because it wasn’t a big deal. By focusing on the pregnancy and the impending birth of their daughter, they skipped the “coming out” step, as if they’d been out all along.

(Disclosure: I worked for NBC News in 2007 and 2008 as a campaign reporter, but do not know Wolfe or Gosk).

I have always been very conflicted about the public coming out of any celebrity, but particularly of journalists. On the one hand, I am a big believer that having out LGBT people in the public eye is essential for raising a bright light to the civil-rights issues we face and providing role models for the next generation. That’s why I am part of NLGJA.

But at the same time, there has to be a middle ground between being in the closet and announcing you’re gay on the front page of a magazine. Many people live openly gay lives without making headlines. They are out to their family, friends and colleagues, but either do not warrant a public announcement of their sexual orientation or leave that type of advocacy to others. That’s certainly true for some LGBT journalists, who take their role as an objective arbiter of facts seriously and shy away from disclosing personal views and details of their private lives.

We should not assume that the only options are “closeted” and “gay icon.” Many actors, politicians and journalists are out, but just haven’t told you. It was as if Wolfe and Gosk were saying, “I never told you I am straight, so why should I tell you I am gay?”

Wolfe, Gosk and NBC are perhaps making a bigger statement in their handling of this news than if they had the two women on the couch announcing that they are lesbians. What they are saying is that having two gay correspondents shouldn’t make headlines. But that doesn’t mean anyone is ashamed of who they are.

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?

Missing On-Air

Our friends at the Asian American Journalists Association–who just finished up their annual convention in Detroit–have a great fundraiser that highlights the lack of Asian American men in broadcast (tv, radio, and webcast). The AAJA Men’s Calendar, on sale here, features the top vote-getters in a poll and the guys then get splashed in a calendar. It’s a great way to highlight the lack of visibility for Asian American men while also having a little fun.

Julie Tam, who chairs the committee that oversees the fundraiser, says “the calendar has a good representation of men from various Asian and mixed ethnic backgrounds, on-air talent (news, sports, technology) and behind-the-scenes folks (writer/producers, news director), in different career stages (from small market to national level, from younger guys to veteran journalists), and from cities across the U.S.”

What I love about this fundraiser is that it puts the spotlight on an area that is also a concern for LGBT journalists–especially lesbians–which is the lack of visibility in broadcast journalism.

While there have been some strides on the national level in the anchor chair and as reporters, there is still a significant gender gap with the small number of openly gay men far outnumbering the number of openly lesbians who appear on television or are heard on radio either nationally or in local markets.  Of course, transgender broadcasters are largely non-existent. The ranks of producers and behind-the-scenes staff is larger, but there is still a visibility gap.

I wonder whether we could even fill a calendar of lesbians in broadcast, for instance?

When people ask why NLGJA is important–and why minority journalism groups like AAJA are important–I think that increasing visibility and making it easier for people to be out in the workplace (and on-air) is a good example of why our work is still needed. If we couldn’t even fill a calendar of lesbians in broadcast, our work is definitely cut out for us.

NLGJA Stylebook: “Openly Gay/Lesbian”

NLGJA’s Stylebook Supplement on LGBT Terminology is intended to complement the prose stylebooks of individual publications, as well as the Associated Press stylebook, the leading stylebook in U.S. newsrooms.

It reflects the association’s mission of inclusive coverage of LGBT people and includes entries on words and phrases that have become common. The Stylebook Supplement was translated into Spanish in 2005.

Periodically, we’ll be spotlighting some of the major entries.

Here’s our “openly gay/lesbian” entry:

openly gay/lesbian: As a modifier, “openly” is usually not relevant; its use should be restricted to instances in which the public awareness of an individual’s sexual orientation is germane. Examples: Harvey Milk was the first openly gay San Francisco supervisor. “Ellen” was the first sitcom to feature an openly lesbian lead character. “Openly” is preferred over “acknowledged,” “avowed,” “admitted,” “confessed” or “practicing” because of their negative connotations.

We look forward to your comments!