Yesterday, the Salt Lake City Tribune endorsed marriage equality. Last June, the US Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law blocking the federal recognition of same sex marriage.
In between these two historic events, slipped in at the end of 2013 as most of the nation’s media was asleep, ABC News TV broadcaster Robin Roberts came out as a lesbian via a facebook post.
“I am grateful for my entire family, my long time girlfriend, Amber, and friends as we prepare to celebrate a glorious new year together.
Coming out to friends, families, and colleagues as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender remains a complicated business. Most fair-minded folks think a person’s sexual orientation is nobody’s business. Most folks in the media think that public individuals should be allowed to come out at their own pace — unless, of course their private life is in conflict with their public life.
Which brings us to Robin Roberts. Roberts is deservedly respected and beloved by America and her colleagues. President Barack Obama chose Robin Roberts as the interviewer when he announced his public support of marriage equality. She is a pioneer on many fronts—athlete, sportscaster, news anchor. Her very battle with cancer was shared with viewers, and a very personal bond with America was forged.
With all this bravery—all of this trailblazing—it would seem to have been a no-brainer that Roberts would have come out earlier. But the truth is that even someone as successful and loved as Robin Roberts had to tread carefully. Her declaration as a lesbian makes her a role model again; only this time she exemplifies the burden so many LGBT Americans carry. Especially those who are women, religious, and African American.
Roberts’ gayness was an open secret. Some expected she would come out as President Obama told her that he supported marriage equality. She didn’t. Maybe she would come during her cancer fight. She didn’t. According to folks who watched the entire Good Morning America series of Roberts’ cancer fight and treatment, her girlfriend Amber Laign was never featured. The first mention of Lagin occurred on this past Monday. Contrast that with GMA colleague Sam Champion, openly gay, who very publicly married his longtime partner Rubem Roberb.
So what lessons are we to learn from all of this? If it takes the fall of DOMA to make an environment suitable for someone of Roberts’ stature to come out, then there is much work to be done. Challenges of class—of race and gender—are deeply entrenched obstacles to living an open life. Each coming out process is unique, yet African Americans face a path entwined with family, religion, racism and more.
Robin Roberts should be congratulated, again, for her bravery. Let’s not let our growing marriage equality success blind us to the very real challenges many still find to living an open and honest life.
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