Rumors that CNN's Thomas Roberts had come out at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association conference in Florida last week must have seemed a little puzzling to the Headline News anchor. While Roberts did appear on a panel called “Off Camera: The Challenges for LGBT TV Anchors,” it was really only the most recent stage in a seven-year coming out process.
Roberts first came out as a gay journalist to co-workers at NBC affiliate WAVY-TV in Norfolk, VA, in 1999. In an exclusive interview with AfterElton.com, he described those first steps out of the closet: “It's painful to open up and trust people with something I was guarding with everything I had… (but) most of my fears have been put aside because of the kindness of the people I work with.”
Roberts wanted to make sure his colleagues heard about it from him, rather than on the newsroom grapevine, saying, “Friends might have felt slighted if they heard it other than from me.”
What prompted his decision to come out in the workplace at that time? “I was happy, I was in a relationship, and I was very proud. I had the support of family, and of my friends. It was … about not wasting any more time. I'd wasted enough time.” Roberts and his partner are still together and will celebrate their anniversary on September 30.
As well as being named one of the “50 Most Beautiful Atlantans” by Jezebel magazine, Roberts was approached by People magazine to be featured in its “Sexiest Bachelors” issue. He turned them down for a simple reason: “I'm not a bachelor. I thought it would be false advertising… (And) I didn't think it was the right venue to talk about it.”
Roberts joined the NLGJA a year ago, although he's been involved with the organization in other ways in the past. He agreed to participate at this year's conference when “a friend who was going to be involved as the moderator asked if I would be interested in being on the panel. I thought it could be helpful to younger journalists, and also a growing experience for me.”
Was he worried about the effect it would have on his career? “I had some concerns, but not enough to stop me from doing it,” Roberts said. “There was some trepidation… about making yourself vulnerable to a group of journalists with questions, to experience being on the other side, being in the hot seat, to come up with thoughtful, truthful answers in the way that I wanted…. It's the largest step I've taken to be more active in the organization, and to interact with other gay journalists….
“No one advised me against doing it. I have no regrets, but I have some concerns about some of the reporting, certain correlations that are being drawn.”