By any measure, 2013 was the Year of the Queer, especially for network anchors.
In addition to the death of DOMA, the increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage, and the Boy Scouts of America’s pledge of allegiance to sexual diversity, ABC’s Robin Roberts and Sam Champion and NBC’s Jenna Wolfe joined the growing pantheon of openly-gay anchors.
All three of their revelations were greeted with virtually unanimous support, which leads me to wonder: Have we reached a societal tipping point for acceptance of homosexual news personalities? Or does the culture of celebrity require that such disclosures launch blazing headlines?
Yes and yes.
“As long as we keep progressing, there will be a time when coming out is not a big story,” says CNN’s Don Lemon, 47, who disclosed his sexuality in his 2011 memoir. “… Maybe not in the near future; maybe over the course of a decade. I’m not an authority on when that will be. I’m not Nostradamus. I can’t predict things.”
To MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts, we’re already at that point. Out since 2006, his September 2012 wedding to Patrick Abner was featured in the Sunday New York Times ’‘Vows” section.
“Times have changed,” Roberts, 41, says. “We have a President who believes in marriage equality, and a Supreme Court that believes in marriage equality, and more and more states that are enacting laws to recognize marriage equality. I think it’s fantastic.”
The momentum from this cultural sea change has enabled “great, wonderful people” such as Robin Roberts et. al “to step up and claim their rightful spots,” Roberts adds. “They’re showing that a successful personal life and a successful professional life can live within the same sphere.”
Roberts and Lemon point out that such exposure is crucial in the face of raging homophobes like ‘Duck Dynasty’ star Phil Robertson. Robertson is “free to cast aspersions,” Roberts says. “He throws gay people on the fire and uses the Bible as an excuse.”
Amen. Got a match?
Robin Roberts’ and Sam Champion’s approaches to acknowledging their sexuality publicly represent another cultural tipping point. Eschewing methods of the past — declarations on national magazine covers, for example — both chose a subtle, understated approach.
‘Good Morning America’ co-anchor Roberts came out in one sentence, tucked into an end-of-the-year Facebook post about her recovery from a bone marrow transplant. “I am grateful for my entire family, my longtime girlfriend, Amber, and friends, as we prepare to celebrate a glorious new year together,” she wrote.
Roberts (at right with Amber) was flooded with support from all corners, including a tweet from Michelle Obama. To Lemon, it was no surprise. “People were already genuinely rooting for Robin because she’s been through so much. She’s beloved.”
Like Roberts, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper also came out online, in July 2012. Though his email to blogger Andrew Sullivan caused a media stir, Cooper’s homosexuality had been an open secret for years, as had Robin Roberts’.
For Champion, until recently ‘GMA’s’ weatherguy, his unveiling was buried in the 47th paragraph of the NYT piece about Roberts’ nuptials. Champion, a guest along with his partner, photographer Rubem Robierb, stated that the couple planned to marry that December.
These approaches represent “a profound change in the industry,” says Garrett Glaser, one of the country’s first openly-gay TV reporters. A 30-year industry veteran, he came out in 1994 on L.A.’s KNBC while reading an obit of an AIDS victim.
“It still takes real guts to be honest about who you are, but being out in public is increasingly seen as routine in many markets,” Glaser, 60, says. “I’m shocked every day at how off-the-cuff it is…. It really depends on the degree of celebrity.”
Wolfe, 39, co-anchor of ‘Weekend Today,’ chose a splashier route. On ‘Today’ in late March, she and her partner, NBC correspondent Stephanie Gosk, not only came out as a couple but announced they (Wolfe) were expecting a baby girl. A week later, they appeared in People magazine.
“It’s incumbent on people with high visibility and in secure positions, like myself, to come out,” according to CNN’s Lemon. “It’s important for people of privilege. They have less to lose.”