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.

Sam Champion Comes Out

Almost at the end of an October 5th New York Times article on the wedding of openly gay MSNBC anchor Thom Roberts was a hidden gem:

Sam Champion (right) and Rubem Robierb

Among the 170 or so guests at the reception was Sam Champion, the weather anchor at ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He took a turn on the dance floor with his partner, the photographer Rubem Robierb.

“We’re getting married New Year’s Eve in Miami,” Mr. Champion said in the spirit of the moment.

Mr. Robierb corrected him: “We’ll do it here officially, and then have a party in Miami.”

And so with that, Sam Champion came out. No big announcement, just a by-the-way quote. An article on October 8th by Jack Mirkinson, media editor at The Huffington Post, picks up on that observation:

The announcement on Friday that ABC News weatherman Sam Champion is marrying his boyfriend is yet another sign that gay marriage and gay rights are increasingly becoming a settled issue in many corners of the media.

These days, a well-known television personality can both publicly announce that he’s gay and share news of his engagement at the same time, and have the entire news division he works for celebrate the news, with nobody batting an eye. This is, of course, as it should be — but that doesn’t make it any less noteworthy.

Though much of the media is ostensibly “objective” and avoids taking stands on particular issues, there are certain things that are settled questions. It is broadly acceptable, for instance, for a Wolf Blitzer type to denounce racism or anti-Semitism, even though Blitzer would never reveal who he voted for, or what he thinks about abortion.

It’s becoming apparent that support for gay rights could be on its way to being one of those things that everyone takes for granted. That’s why the way the news of Champion’s engagement unfolded is so instructive.

NLGJA congratulated Champion on the day of the NYT article with this statement:

We want to applaud and recognize Good Morning America weatherman Sam Champion, who came out publicly for the first time today and announced his engagement.

“On behalf of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, I would like to extend my sincerest congratulations to Sam Champion, who has been a longtime supporter of our efforts,” said NLGJA President Michael Triplett.

“Journalists who acknowledge their sexual orientation, especially those on television, become important role models for the next generation, who see that they can be honest, succeed in this profession and be respected as journalists. The strong support that journalists who have come out in recent years have received from their peers and their viewers will hopefully spark others to live their lives openly.

Being a native New Yorker, I remember Champion as the local ABC weatherman. Even back then I certainly heard rumors he was gay. Although to many people he was hiding in plain sight (remember Anderson Cooper anyone?), he might say that he wasn’t hiding, just not telling, at least not on the record, until now.

I do sincerely hope that the way this all played out encourages others. The water is warm, and it seems like it’s only getting warmer.

A Day With Don Lemon

One of the powerful things about journalists being open about their sexual orientation and gender identity is that it allows them to open up their lives in ways a closeted journalist couldn’t.  That idea was brought home in this Creative Loafing-Atlanta story on CNN’s Don Lemon where we get Wyatt William’s glimpse into Lemon’s home life.

Don Lemon is not quite ready. It’s noon and the 45-year-old anchor is standing at the door of his Virginia-Highland home in pin-striped pajama pants and a loose white tee. In five hours, he will be wearing a designer suit and tie, his face airbrushed, looking into a camera and discussing the capture of Muammar Gaddafi’s son live with an international correspondent reporting from Libya. He’s not there yet.

“Ben is still here,” he hollers as he walks down the hallway to his bathroom. “You can talk to him.” Lemon is referring to Ben Tinker, a CNN producer he’s been dating for a few years. Though his friends and co-workers were already well aware that Lemon is gay, he only came out publicly earlier this year, around the same time he published a memoir, Transparent.

The book isn’t a trophy case of big catches, as some journalists’ memoirs are, but something closer to a coming-of-age story. His childhood in Port Allen, La., in the late ’60s and ’70s was complicated. His father was married to a woman other than his mother and died when Lemon was 9. He was sexually abused by an older neighbor. He took some time coming to terms with his sexuality. In part, the point for Lemon in telling all of this is to explain that nothing good came of keeping secrets. He argues convincingly for transparency, in his life as well as his work.

. . .

While Lemon gets dressed, Tinker hangs around in the living room for a few minutes, chatting about his recent move to Atlanta from New York. Art of all sorts — paintings, photographs, collages — adorns the walls. A beautiful Thornton Dial monograph sits prominently on the coffee table. Tinker is friendly, sweet even, but not very interested in being interviewed. In an industry like television, where one is either in front of the camera or behind it, Tinker clearly prefers the latter. Lemon, arriving back in the living room, is obviously the former.

He’s now wearing a pressed white shirt open at the collar and tucked into slacks with black, sharp-looking shoes. He has a full, masculine build and a commanding presence that puts one in mind of a politician. In person, his smooth, cream-in-coffee complexion looks as flawless at home as it does under layers of television makeup. His smile is striking. It is not an overstatement to say that his clear eyes literally glitter in the sunlight.

It’s strange how often Lemon’s looks and appearance are discussed in the story–which is, ironically, highly critical of the superficiality of TV news–but I do love the glimpse in to Lemon’s domestic life.

That wouldn’t have happened a year ago. And it doesn’t happen for many journalists who are very visible, yet no open about being LGBT.

It’s also intriguing to read what Lemon has to say about his “role” at CNN and the truth-telling that comes from being an African American gay man.

When asked what typecast role CNN intends for him to play, what type of anchor he’s expected to be, Lemon pauses. He winces. “I think they want me to be the good-looking black guy. That’s what I think. I don’t know.” He talks about not knowing how his book might affect his career, how coming out and being critical could play into that. At one point he says, “I don’t know what will happen when my contract comes up.” He thinks about it for a minute and says, “People want to have a box to put you in and I don’t fit in anyone’s box.”

For what it’s worth, that statement seems to ring true for Lemon. It’s easy to assume that a gay black guy like Lemon is a diehard liberal, until the moment in his book when he gushes about Ronald Reagan or recalls his time involved with Young Republicans in college. He even has plenty of kind words to say about Bill O’Reilly. Maybe those things are something of a put-on; he certainly skews liberal at times. Ultimately, Lemon’s not interested in giving anyone the answers they want to hear, “I’m not concerned with what people think of me,” he says. “I mean, I’m a gay black guy. If I can’t ask questions without caring what people think of me, who can?”

“News people are human. They have backgrounds, they have certain lenses, they have certain filters. I don’t believe any newsperson should be ideological or partisan. I think you should always seek to point out the truth and if something is bullshit, it’s bullshit.”

When is a Teacher with a Porn Past News?

Lots of talk about the Boston Fox25 story focusing on a local teacher who was “ambushed” by a reporter about the teacher’s appearance in gay porn. The reporter, Michael Beaudet, has defended his work on Twitter but says he’s still on the story.

Here’s the second day story from Fox25 where the reporter explains how he got the story and the subsequent reaction:

“A viewer called us concerned that Kevin Hogan was working at the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden,” Beaudet said on the FOX 25 News.

The viewer was concerned because of Hogan’s role in the movies, which were found online.

FOX Undercover began looking into Hogan’s past, and found his movies were made in 2010 and readily found online. He also apparently taught before making his movies, and then began working at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School this school year after making the movies.

and the reaction

After FOX Undercover contacted the school for comment, the school placed Hogan on paid leave while it conducts its own investigation.

The story, which aired on Tuesday, sparked a flood of responses, many of them critical of the story. One tweet said “Kevin Hogan did not deserve that. He’s a good teacher with students supporting him.”

Before the story aired, FOX Undercover asked parents what they thought of Hogan teaching in the school after acting in pornographic movies.

“I’m disturbed. I’m surprised. The kids really love him. He’s been a great addition to the team. He’s a new coach this year. New head of the English department. This is scary,” one mother said.

“It’s very bad. The students and the young generation shouldn’t have something like that,” another man picking up a student said.

“What is my reaction? Oh my God! Everyone’s innocent until proven guilty. I don’t like to judge people. I’m very for this school. I think it’s a great academic program,” one mother said.

As the debate moves to whether his porn career should disqualify him for teaching, many say he should be allowed to teach because his didn’t do anything illegal.

The story has been described as “gotcha journalism” and some say the report is unfair to the teacher. Mediaite described it as:

the Carl Monday school of journalism, where an over-exuberant investigative reporter sticks a camera in an alleged perpetrator’s face to drum up outrage but actually makes the viewer sympathetic to the subject in question. After reviewing the video, Beaudet seems to have conducted his undercover report in a mean-spirited, smear-campaign fashion to get the teacher fired.

At Huffington Post, Brody Brown called it a:

 fear-mongering crusade, Mike Beaudet, an investigative undercover reporter for FOX Boston, has placed English teacher and crew coach Kevin Hogan in the community’s crosshairs, setting the stage for what appears to be the start of another one of these public crucifixions and character assassinations.

Not all the coverage has been critical. At the Boston Herald, columnist Margery Eagan says porn and teaching don’t mix, but points out that the teacher did nothing illegal and that  “[m]illions of us spend hours a day watching pornography online. Yet when we find someone who made money performing in what’s become our second — or maybe third — favorite national pastime, it’s off with his head.”

Stepping back from the journalistic approach to stopping a teacher on the street to confront him on camera about his career in porn, there is a more basic question: is this news and–if it is news–does it justify this approach?

Arguably, it is “interesting” that a teacher and coach is appearing/has appeared in porn but it may not rise to the level of “news” that justifies a full-court press and ambush interviews. The story seems to have a “sweeps month” hysteria (EDIT: the story actually ran after sweeps were over) to it that doesn’t match the significance.  The news questions are:

- Is the public really being served by being told this information?

- How much private information does the public need to know about the employee of a charter school?

- What is the goal of reporting the information and what is the motivation behind the story?

If the story is news–and it is possible that may depend on the community and the person involved–then the next question is does the story need to be done in the way it was done by Fox25.  My sense is that even if one believes it is news, it is not a story that deserves “ambush” interviews and screaming headlines. Confronting a school teacher about a legal act that occurred in his off-time and didn’t involve students seems like an unnecessarily tabloidish approach to a story.

What are your thoughts?

Asking Gay Questions

So you probably heard that former U.S. Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell walked of the Piers Morgan show on CNN after she found questions about same-sex marriage and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to be “rude” and not part of the allegedly agreed-upon topics.  Here’s the clip

On Sunday, we saw presidential candidate Michele Bachman stay rigidly on-message when questioned about her position on LGBT issues, including adoption and whether she would appoint LGBT people to her cabinet.  Here’s video (and a transcript) of being questioned by David Gregory on NBC’s Meet the Press.

So here’s the NLGJA question:  What do you think about these kinds of questions?  Are they helpful for viewers or are they just “gotcha” questions?  Now that LGBT issues are now “litmus test” questions for politicians, are there questions journalists should be asking that they aren’t?  For someone like Bachmann, who stays rigidly on message, are there ways to get her to be more candid?  Is it “rude” to ask O’Donnell questions about LGBT issues now that she’s not running for office?

Personally, I’m not a big fan of asking politicians “do you think being gay or lesbian is a choice.”  Maybe it’s because I don’t really care or maybe it’s because it is too complex an issue to be answered in a sound-bite, I’m just not sure what we are supposed to learn from that question and how it really relates to politics.   Are there questions you don’t like or should we be glad that they asking any questions at all?