Robin Roberts: ‘I was afraid people couldn’t think I could be a Christian and gay’

I was faithful Christian for over 45 years. Then I lost my faith. But only in God. I was brought up in the Episcopal church and belonged to a couple of parishes I loved enough that I still call myself an Episcopalian. An Episcopalian witch because I believe in the earth more than any God these days. My point is religion is complicated for many people. Especially when people within your religion say that you or the people you love don’t belong. That complication is one of the reasons that kept Robin Roberts from coming out publicly. Robin covers People magazine’s current issue and wrote an essay about being a gay, Christian, Black journalist in the public eye. Robin said that one of the justifications she gave herself to not say anything publicly about her sexuality was that everyone around her already knew. But she admits she was actually afraid that the public would not accept her as both Christian and gay. She struggled with people doubting her Faith because of who she loved. See? Complicated.

On celebrity: I like being a storyteller. That’s the reason why I became a journalist. It’s what first drew me to the career as a little girl in Mississippi. Of course, back then I didn’t see anyone like me on television, a gay Black woman. I knew I wanted to be able to help others share their story.

But I never wanted to become the story. I never thought at all about the “celebrity” aspect of it. Even as much as we loved Walter Cronkite, I didn’t think of him as a celebrity. He was huge. I mean, who didn’t love Uncle Walter?

Her ABC colleague and bosses inspired her to come out publicly: I was so inspired by my dear, dear friend, and GMA colleague Sam Champion. I knew he was gay. He knew I was gay. Our colleagues, our bosses, they all knew. Then in 2012, when Sam got married to Rubem, his husband, I was there at the wedding. I was able to see how our bosses at ABC embraced it. They never said, “Hey, should you rethink this.” And then to see how the public was so supportive, that really opened my eyes.

She came out for her partner: But I didn’t come out necessarily for me. I did it because I love [my partner] Amber [Laign]. I was just thanking everybody. I did it via a simple social media post where I thanked my doctors, my parents. But then, was I not going to thank this woman who had been by me through this illness? But people got it. “Oh, she’s just grateful,” they said. “It’s just love.” They didn’t make it anything more than me living my life.

On being gay and Christian: For the longest time, before I came out publicly in 2013, I would think, “Well, everybody knows I am gay. My family knows I am gay. My colleagues, bosses…” All true. If I was walking down the street I would introduce Amber. But I wasn’t ready to say it publicly, even though I felt that I was being public. What a waste of time! And why? Because I was afraid. Because I was afraid people couldn’t think I could be a Christian and gay. And then I realized, if somebody who looks like me was to come along, maybe I could give them a little more courage. Maybe they would know they were not walking alone.

[From People]

I understand Robin’s quandary. I had a bunch of questions when I was practicing about How does ____ factor into my beliefs? Fortunately, gay wasn’t an issue in the church I raised my kids, so they never thought God had an issue with them. They know some factions do – even some Episcopalian churches – but they only knew a church that accepted them. Robin is seen by a far wider audience, though, and by many Christians who look at LGBTQ differently than she or I do. It’s tough. For Robin I mean. I honestly don’t care about Christians who struggle with accepting LGBTQ. I remember sitting at a Christian Youth Conference in Estes Park Colorado that was far more conservative than our rector had anticipated. This pastor person with his cult-like cheering crowd of high-school students told them that were loved because, “God doesn’t make mistakes.” In the next breath he said gays would never know the kingdom of the lord because they’d deified God. I asked if God didn’t make mistakes and God made gay people… and got kicked out. (The day before when another preacher ‘made a joke’ that girls could remain chaste if they just put a penny between their knees. I ‘corrected’ him that we could just turn over on to all fours and also got kicked out.) It’s easy to say that queer folks should leave any Christianity that doesn’t accept them. But I also know how much religion/faith/spirituality becomes a part of you. It’s not an easy thing to turn away from. I’m glad Robin found a balance in herself to proudly display both to the world.

And what a beautiful reason to come out, too. It’s lovely that Robin’s decision was a result of wanting to publicly acknowledge Amber for her support in Robin’s cancer battle. I’m sure the scare of facing her mortality put a lot of things in perspective for Robin. I think when you face true fear, like death, fear of perception falls to the side. And thank goodness. Because that kind of visibility is important to so many. I’m sure there are plenty of young Christian LGBTQ who are struggling with the conflicts their churches have thrown on them. But seeing Robin balance the two shows them a different reality. Hopefully a reality more people will be allowed to live openly as well.

Photo credit: People, Avalon Red, InStar Images and Instagram

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17 Responses to “Robin Roberts: ‘I was afraid people couldn’t think I could be a Christian and gay’”

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  1. Jill says:

    I do believe we would be better witnesses
    about our faith if we just shut our mouths and open our arms

  2. SarahCS says:

    Thank you for sharing this story and your personal experiences. I have never been religious and I’m so interested to hear about people’s own journeys through life and faith.

    I also absolutely LOVE that you were the kid who would speak out.

  3. Merricat says:

    I am not a fan of organized religion. Nearly all of them turn on a point made of exclusion–“you will go to hell if you don’t agree with these beliefs.”
    Also, I don’t think hell is an actual location. Lol. Yet somehow I manage to live–or try my best to live–a pretty ethical life.

    • souperkay says:

      I am also not a fan of organized religion, and it all becomes so clear when you recognize that Christianity was created by stealing from other religions as a tool of oppression to stomp out indigenous belief systems, Roman belief systems, and Greek belief systems, to ruin polytheistic belief structures as a method of control.

      Polytheistic belief systems aren’t off the hook, hello entrenched caste system in India, so I am not a fan of organized religion.

    • SophieJara says:

      I don’t really think it’s nearly all of them though, I think it’s mostly Christianity and Islam that believe in hell and believe everyone should believe the same things. My three moms (mom, stepmom, adopted mom) are Buddhist, Jewish, and in the Native American Church, respectively, and no one believes in hell or a “one true faith”.

    • AMA1977 says:

      This. My problem isn’t inherently with God, it’s with some people’s interpretation of what God is and does. As I have gotten older, I just can’t abide the hypocrisy of most people who would say their faith is important to them.

      I am comfortable and confident in the choices I make, and always try to lead with kindness, empathy, compassion, and understanding. I was raised Methodist in a progressive congregation, and it makes me wince when people use God as a cudgel against those they’re “othering.”

      I’ll tell you that the God and Jesus I learned of in my youth would be enraged at people who prioritize guns over children, or who persecute others for being who they are or loving who they love, or who let people go hungry in a rich nation, or who mistreat and abuse the homeless and the poor, or who slash funding for healthcare and mental health resources, or who lie, cheat, steal, and accept bribes, or who consider some people less than human, or who worship money (something about tables being overturned and destruction ensuing?) I think there are a whole lot of “people of faith” who are going to be caught up short when they don’t get the celestial reward they think they have coming.

  4. jferber says:

    Love her and always will.

  5. Carol Mengel says:

    One of the many reasons I left the Catholic Church was because of its views on homosexuality when there are pedophile priests who face no repercussions and clergy preaching that Nancy Pelosi is going to hell for her stand on women’s reproductive rights.

  6. FHMom says:

    I think when it comes to churches, congregations, whatever you want to call the house of worship you attend, you need to shop around. Some pastors and churches are more open, accepting, loving and forgiving. Others are all condemning and hating. I experienced this when I lived in Seattle. There was a church in a gay neighborhood that was the best. For once in my life I enjoyed going. The church in my own neighborhood was conservative and awful. Really, people, shop around if you are looking for a place of worship.

  7. Annabelle says:

    Wow, some of these comments are hard to take. I am a Christian, an Episcopalian, and my faith and the parishes I have attended throughout my long life welcome folks of all colors and all sexual orientation/genders. Many other Christian denominations are similar. Yes, there are other Christians who believe differently, but don’t paint all Christians with the same brush. My church has replaced our pride flag at least three times as it has been torn down by passersby. The combined Christian and Jewish congregations in my area work hard together to support homeless families and provide other social services to all–not a selected few.

  8. BeanieBean says:

    And Robin didn’t just grow up Christian, she grew up Christian in the Deep South, in Mississippi. Religion–specifically Christianity–is inculcated into every human being from baby hood. It took a special kind of strength & intelligence for her to create the career & life she has. She is so very impressive.
    As for me, I’ve come to the conclusion that if there is a god, they’re not going to keep people out of heaven (again, if there is one) based on stupid human technicalities, like whether you were baptized or not, straight or not, etc., etc.

  9. Carol Mengel says:

    The best decision I made regarding organized religion was joining the local Presbyterian church. It is accepting of the LGBTQ community and doesn’t judge anyone. How happy I am to be part of this Christian community.

  10. ERC says:

    I am reading a wonderful book called Queerfully and Wonderfully Made- A Guide for LGTBQ+ Christian Teens. How wonderful this would have been to exist when I was a teen! Thinking that being gay was a choice because I “chose” to date boys. HELLO EARTH TO TEEN ME: BISEXUAL DUH. There is so so far to go, but these little glimmers out there exist. Pretty hard to completely put it back in the bottle.

  11. Dani says:

    The more I learn about her, the bigger my fandom. She’s amazing.

    Also – I’m thankful for my Lutheran church community (ELCA), who is also open and affirming to all – even those who aren’t sure where they stand on the whole organized religion thing. (side note – lists similar congregations)

    Sadly, for all the harm that people have caused in the name of religion, it’s no wonder people feel unwelcome, and I’m sorry about that.

  12. Silent Star says:

    This thread is a wonderful example of how religion is a social construct. I’m glad that so many religious people choose to be inclusive and create welcoming sacred spaces, but I think that proves that we make religion whatever we want it to be. The fact that we can shop around for a faith community that fits our values and goals really just proves that we’re not guided by faith.