Why Robin Roberts Coming Out as Gay Isn’t News — But Is Still Significant (Analysis)


“Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson shows that anti-gay attitudes are still widely held

Robin Roberts coming out as a lesbian this weekend is not really news, but it’s still significant.

In the history of bombshells, the “Good Morning America” host’s announcement wasn’t even a sparkler. Roberts’ sexuality was a barely disguised secret — like Anderson Cooper and Jodie Foster before her, she never exerted much energy holding the closet door shut. Indeed, when Roberts scored a critical 2012 interview with President Barack Obama about the White House’s shift in favor of gay marriage, tongues wagged.

Like Cooper, R&B crooner Frank Ocean and Olympic diver Tom Daley, Roberts made the big reveal in a casual manner. She choose to bring it up as an aside on her Facebook page — a major difference from 16 years ago, when Time magazine devoted its cover to Ellen DeGeneres‘ coming out as a lesbian. No teary press conferences required.

Also read: As the Closet Door Opens Wider, Where are the Gay Movie Stars?

Roberts thanked her longtime girlfriend Amber Laign for supporting her through her recovery from a recent bone marrow transplant, and the reaction across social media was basically a shrug.

“First Brian Boitano, now Robin Roberts. 2nd and 3rd behind only Ellen on the list of least shocking coming outs in history,” @LWAPolitics tweeted. 

While @HarryLarris tweeted, “Robin Roberts? *yawn* I thought she “came out” years ago. Again, who cares?”

So if most sentient morning news viewers suspected that shirtless shots of Brad Pitt didn’t set Roberts’ pulse racing, why is her statement still important?

Also read: ‘Duck Dynasty’ Reversal: GLAAD Tells A&E Not to Put Profits Over People

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.

“If the ‘Duck Dynasty’ saga showed the ways in which homophobia is still excused in American society, Roberts shows that there are reasons to be optimistic about the further acceptance of LGBT people as part of the everyday fabric of peoples’ lives,” Mirkinson wrote. “The specifics of her story also tell us something about the particular cruelties of grappling with life in an often anti-gay world.”

Moreover, this prejudice is institutionalized. Despite the Senate passing anti-discrimination legislation this fall (with Republican support), it is still legal in over half of the 50 states for employers to fire people on the basis of their sexuality.

And though attitudes toward gays and lesbians have softened, transgender people are still the victim of economic hardship and prejudice. They are four times as likely to have a household income under $10,000 and twice as likely to be unemployed, according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. 

That’s to say nothing of the many states that deny gays and lesbians marriage rights and the economic and healthcare related privileges that come with a legally binding union of that sort.

While entertainers and news personalities are coming out at a record clip, on the big and small screens gays, lesbians and transgender people are woefully under-represented, recent studies by GLAAD show.

That needs to change. As GLAAD spokesperson and former “My So-Called Life” star Wilson Cruz told TheWrap last summer, “Look at what’s happened here in the U.S. When people hear our stories and get to know us on a personal level through TV and media, they feel like they know somebody and that’s the key to changing people’s hearts and minds. When they know us, they side with us.”

Roberts, Cooper, Foster and others may not have made a big deal about their sexuality, so it’s tempting to write off their newfound openness as too little, too late. Tempting, but foolhardy.

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.



  • Exetarian

    Like everyone else at The Wrap, Brent Lang appears to never have even read Phil Robertson’s actual exchange with GQ. Phil did not call for discrimination of, persecution of, ostracizing of or marginalization of gay people. He was asked what he considered sinful, and he proceeded to quote, however inelegantly, a scripture from 1Corinthians where the apostle Paul enumerates the sexual “sins” that may keep someone from heaven. Among these is homosexuality. People are welcome to disagree with this statement theologically, but to declare it as being on the wrong side of history is simply moronic. Religious beliefs have nothing to do with history or changing social mores. Religious beliefs have always been at odds with prevalent social mores. This was true of 1st Century Christians living in the Roman world as well. They harbor beliefs based on what they believe is God’s will, not man’s. And it shouldn’t take a scholar of religion to realize that those two things have rarely, if ever, been in harmony. If anything, more mainstream acceptance of homosexuality will only steel fundamentalist evangelicals in their beliefs. Brent Lang… Please be a better journalist. Well intentioned opinion piece, but sloppy as hell in its accuracy and research.

    • Jimmy

      Quoting the Bible isn’t an excuse. The Bible has been used for centuries to excuse the worse kind of behavior. Robertson’s actual words may have not call for discrimination, but it’s quite obvious what the intent is (and yes, intelligent people can make that inference). You don’t compare a group of people to those who engage in bestiality or say that African-Americans would have been happy to continue with the Jim Crow days without meaning something negative. Robertson is free to say whatever he wants but using the Bible to excuse terrible words and actions doesn’t make you a good Christian.

      • Exetarian

        It’s quite obvious what the intent is? I’m sorry, but are you really that presumptuous? I’m not an evangelical fundamentalist, but I’ve met enough to know they’re not that circumspect. They say what they mean and they mean what they say. If there is an “intent,” it’s rather boldly delivered. There’s nothing to “infer.” It’s there on a platter. You’ve clearly not read the quotes either. What he said was crude and inelegant, but it was not that inflammatory. Enumerating sexual sins as they are in a specific scripture is not “comparing.” It’s merely recognizing that a literal reading of that scripture puts them all in a category of sins that keep someone out of heaven. It doesn’t rank them or prioritize which are worse than others. And he wasn’t either. He was citing a scripture which he believes enumerates sins. He answered the question. His comment on Jim Crow era Louisiana was merely explaining that he personally never saw a black person mistreated. It was his personal experience. He didn’t elaborate on the era itself. I fully understand how others can construe something negative from what he said — but his intent was not derogatory. You’re free to call him a bad Christian if you want — lots are. But put yourself in his shoes… in his experience… you’ll understand that what most people are taking from it was not the intent. He is not an elegant or articulate spokesman for his beliefs… no question. But he’s not a hateful guy, either.

      • Bill Via

        Nor does the Koran’s direction to annihilate infidels make killing innocents acceptable so what is your point?

    • disqus_CFutHLUtBY

      Nothing you have raised here points to an inaccuracy. Phil Robertson’s views are bigoted. It doesn’t matter if he arrives at them through the Bible, through upbringing or through some sort of eureka moment. He think homosexuality is immoral. If public opinion polls are to be believed, society is moving in the direction of greater acceptance of gays and lesbians, just as it once became more open to other faiths and races. Consequently, the moral arc of the universe seems to be bending away from Robertson and from 1 Corinthians, for that matter.

      • Exetarian

        Then you have an unacceptably broad and inaccurate definition of bigotry. Believing a behavior to be immoral is not hateful of the person engaging in it. This also has nothing to do with acceptance. Case in point the many Christian families with gay children who are loved and embraced and accepted, even as the families continue to embrace the faith that considers homosexual behavior immoral. You clearly equate the belief in immorality with intolerance and hatred. And that is not accurate.

  • terry208

    Everyone loves lesbians, It’s the gay men that people find repellent and harmful to society.

    • Cherryblossomgirl08

      Maybe because there’s never been a news story about lesbians raping and molesting little girls?

      • terry208

        I concur sweetness, dudes are creepy enough on their own, now you have two or more coming together in unholy congress magnifying their abhorrent behavior, and planning and plotting against those who are clothed in innocence, desiring to corrupt.

      • Kitty Alexander

        Are you serious? White straight males are leading in that department, not gay men.

  • DCGirl

    Who is to say who is on the “wrong side of history”? Certainly not the author of this article.

  • Stephen K. Mack

    WTF, even Gay people can say stupid catty shit about each other: quell suprise! What really surprised me when I was coming out, were all the professional gays who found us over the hill newbies, a little too much to handle. The refrain of ‘what took you so long’ was the usual. IT”S NOT ABOUT YOU! yes I shouted: # @LWAPolitics and @HarryLarris. Have you forgotten how excutiatingly hard it was to jettison your own closetedness? Your own Homophobia i.e. your own self-hatred? Or was it all a bed of roses? Are all gay people such assholes? Or have they given up recalling their own struggle, for a blase cynicism as a cover for their own self-hatred in another more noxious key?

    • Kitty Alexander

      Are you an asshole? Stop lumping people together just because the few you encountered weren’t polite.

      • Stephen K. Mack

        Kitty Alexander,
        The question was rhetorical! Is that not perfectly clear from it’s context? It has everything to do with any person who willfully forgets their own struggles coming out, and in spite of those real struggles, looks askance, dismisses another’s struggle as ho hum,unworthy of respect, disregarding an act of courage and commitment. That is what I was reaching for, although It was charged with anger and righteous indignation. Everyone has a right to live their life in the truth of who they are. Coming out is an important civic/ethical act of self-declaration. What I might have said is: if you can’t say something constructive on the very delicate issue of coming out, keep your own council.

  • Rex Rexmano

    Ok, I’m out but how do I get back in!!!

  • stalex26

    I Love And Adore This Strong Women She Is Smart An A Gift From God! Much Love And Hugs Dear Precious Lady xdoxooxoxoxo

  • Paul

    Why does anyone ever have to “come out?” I’ve been straight all my life, and I’ve never felt the need to declare that to the world. I don’t discuss my sexual life with anyone other than the person with whom I am intimate (in my case, my wife). People seem to have this bizarre need to trot their laundry out in front of everybody. And everybody else seems to have an unwarrented interest in other people’s laundry. I don’t get it.

    • Cherryblossomgirl08

      Me neither.

    • Kitty Alexander

      You never mention having a wife or a girlfriend? Oh wait, you just admitted that you have a wife. Isn’t that proclaiming your sexuality? It’s okay for you to talk about your wife but Robin is not allowed to thank her girlfriend? He post spoke nothing about her sex life so that says more about you than it does her that you would immediately jump to what she does in bed versus her relaying a simple thank you to the person on her life.

    • MrTee23

      When we the last time a person was murdered or beaten or fired for being straight? When was the last time that a heterosexual couple tried to get married and was denied a marriage license or denied visitation rights at a hospital or was forced to pay higher taxes because they couldn’t file as a married couple. When was the last time that a preacher, politician, or reality t.v. celebrity told straight people that they were going to hell?

      It’s one thing to be opposed to gay rights, but it’s an entirely different thing to stick your head in the sand and pretend like society treats straight and gay people equally. And trotting your sexuality out isn’t “laundry,” except to people who seem to have a problem with it.

  • ellie

    You have to understand that an employee is a reflection of the business. I am all for gay marriage, and support the gay and lesbian community, but I will honesty admit that I would have a really hard time hiring a transgender. That’s a bit too much for even me.

  • Pussy Eater

    I wish she would suck my dick.

    • therrendunham

      In a far less tactless construct, yes, I’d wife her too.

  • rubart

    Let’s pretend that we don’t know what these two people’s sexuality, or opinions about sexuality, are. Let’s just put a photo of each of them side by side.

    Gee . . . one looks like a scrounge who hasn’t showered since . . . well, since that verse in the bible was written. And wearing that always-on scowl.

    The other looks elegant, warm, beautiful, very well groomed and with a smile that lights up whatever room she’s in.

    One has death energy oozing out of him (in fact, that’s what he does for a living) and the other has life energy radiating from her.

    So when it comes to who would I listen to about life and love, which one would I choose?

    Tough question, huh?

  • nick vog

    it’s as significant as a pimple on a homeless meth head’s bottom