How a ‘Married, Heterosexual, Christian mother’ and NPR Host Became a Gay Rights Ally

By Gail Shister 

The record number of openly-gay Congressional candidates elected two weeks ago “should be a wake-up call, on a number of levels, that the real America can be found in lots of places,” says National Public Radio’s Michel Martin.

A self-described “married, heterosexual, Christian mother,” Martin, 53, an African American, routinely addresses gay issues, as well as those of other minorities, on “Tell Me More,” the daily news-talk show she launched in 2007.

The struggle for gay equality “is one of the most important civil rights movements of our time,” says Martin, who last week received the first Randy Shilts Award for LGBT Coverage, sponsored by the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association. (Full disclosure: I am a long-time member of NLGJA.)


Gay rights “is also one of the most important human rights stories of our time,” Martin adds. “I don’t understand why we wouldn’t do those stories.”

“Tell Me More” has done in-depth looks at topics ranging from gay people of faith to gays in prison to transsexual athletes. Martin’s mission, she says, is to present a diversity of perspectives within the LGBT community. “There is no one gay opinion, just like there’s no one black opinion or one Latino opinion.”

The Shilts Award was named in memory of pioneering San Francisco journalist Randy Shilts. The first reporter to cover a ‘gay beat’ for a major metro daily, he wrote three best-sellers, including the groundbreaking ‘And the Band Played On,’ about the AIDS crisis.

Martin was chosen as the inaugural recipient “because she goes out of her way to tell our stories, and she teaches us about aspects of our own community,” says Matthew E. Berger, co-chair of the Washington, D.C., event. “That’s unique for an ally.”

NPR senior business editor Marilyn Geewax, who presented the Shilts Award to Martin, describes her colleague as “an incredibly brave and perceptive journalist. She takes seriously her commitment to diversity and to getting people to talk to each other.”

Martin, a Brooklyn native, joined NPR in 2006 after 14 years at ABC News — the last 10 as a correspondent for ‘Nightline.’ Prior to ABC, she covered politics for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. She is stepmother to two grown daughters and mother to nine-year-old twins.

Back to the election, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) will be sworn in as the country’s first openly-gay U.S. senator in history. She’ll be joined by a record five “out” U.S. Representatives – six if you include Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, the first openly bisexual member of Congress.

Americans who are surprised by those results “don’t seem to understand who lives in this country,” according to Martin. “The real America doesn’t have one look or one religion or one skin color or one sexual orientation. People who get that are the ones who are going to be on the leading edge.”

Want Martin to tell you more? Just ask.