“Robin Roberts Interviews President Obama!”
“Robin Roberts Diagnosed with Breast Cancer!”
“Robin Roberts Comes Out!”
I can’t tell you how unnerving it is to read these headlines about myself. From the highs and lows of learning I’m to interview the US President to finding out I’m gay on the heels of discovering I have breast cancer, it always jolts me seeing my name blaring from these news flashes.
Now, obviously, none of those headlines actually refers to me, boring old Burnaby-bred Robin Roberts. I don’t have cancer, I’m not gay, and I’d have a snowball’s chance getting White House clearance based on the one question I’d like to ask Barack Obama: “Would you please sing Al Green songs to me?” And I’m certainly not famous, not even almost. No, these reports chronicle the notable life of the other Robin Roberts, the Alabama-born sportscaster-turned-host of Good Morning America. Apart from our names, she and I don’t share the same nationality, background, religion, sexual orientation or hue. Nor anywhere near the same amount of zeros on our pay cheques.
I’ve never met the woman, but our paths did cross a few years ago, when we were both staying at the same LA hotel. I was rudely shaken from my slumber at 6 one morning by a phone call. It was the front desk. “Good morning, Ms. Roberts?”
“Yes,” I mumbled through a cotton-dry mouth.
“As you requested, I’m calling to let you know your car and driver have arrived.”
Now, as I said, I don’t have the cache to be riding around in limos. So, despite my grogginess, I knew I did not order a car and driver. And worse, I knew I did not request a phone call at 6 in the freakin’ morning! I politely informed the guy he had the wrong Robin Roberts and went back to my sleepy anonymity. It wasn’t until later that day that I pondered how far I might have gotten if I’d just thrown on some clothes, shuffled downstairs and hopped in my free limo for the day. It would have made for a good story, anyway.
If you have the same name of someone famous — or infamous (sympathies to the Adolf Hitlers and Lizzie Bordens of the world) — news of milestones in their lives can’t help but rock you just a little. I never really paid much attention to the GMA host; her accomplishments, while laudable, weren’t any more fabulous than any other celeb. I don’t watch her show, haven’t read any of her books, nor caught any of her interviews (from clips I’ve seen, her style can be embarrassingly gushy). It wasn’t until she revealed her cancer diagnosis, and subsequently underwent treatment in a very public way, that I became interested. I admired how she laid bare her fears and dug deep for the courage that would carry her through the tough times. She undoubtedly inspired and encouraged many others enduring similar trials. And she did it again with an entirely different, yet equally courageous, announcement recently.
In a year-end post on her website last December, she acknowledged the love and support of her fans, friends and family, as well as her girlfriend. Wait, girlfriend? Yup, girlfriend has a girlfriend. And while the media was quick to jump on this juicy news, the coverage was mostly low-key and congratulatory. We’ve come a long way. It wasn’t so long ago that people like Clay Aiken, Jodie Foster, David Hyde Pierce and Neil Patrick Harris refused to comment on their sexuality, fearing for their jobs.
That’s not to say homophobia and discrimination don’t hang on like a barnacle. There are still those who equate being gay with “deviant” sex. Why is it that sex is the first — and often only — thought that dominates these people’s minds, as if that’s all there is to a gay person’s relationship? Aside from the fact that whatever goes on behind anyone’s bedroom door is none of our business, why is it so hard for some to separate that aspect? Who’s to say what goes on behind your door isn’t “deviant”?
“But it’s not ‘natural’,” they proclaim. “It’s not how we were made,” they bluster. “Marriage is between a man and a woman, as god intended,” they pronounce, with authority conferred upon them by who knows who. How secure must their marriage or faith be if it’s threatened by the happy union of others?
As knuckle-dragging as this thinking is, it’s nowhere near the dangerously archaic mindset of oh, I don’t know, let’s say Russia, where being “born this way” is grounds for imprisonment or death. Imagine fearing for your life because of whom you love? Imagine verbal and physical attacks on you going unpunished because your own government all but endorses those attacks? Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the Games “is not the place to debate gay rights”. As if, for him, there will be a place at some other time. As if a human being’s basic right is something to “debate”.
As backward as some people continue to be in our own progressive society, that Robin Roberts’ acknowledgement barely caused a ripple points to a major shift in attitudes. It will be interesting to see what happens to Michael Sam’s NFL prospects since he came out recently. The football locker room is traditionally an immature, gay-fearing, macho environment. If there’s room for growth there, there’s hope for mankind.
The more gay family and friends open up — and some people think of the famous as friends — the less gays everywhere will be ostracized and marginalized. Love, and particularly long-term love, is elusive enough. Why begrudge anybody who’s found it, regardless of gender? How far off is the day we trade the word “tolerate” for “accept”? When will the words “come out” lose their association with human sexuality? Now those would be headlines I’d be happy to read.