I love being recognizable. Maybe that’s my Southern upbringing or it’s just the intimacy of morning television because people feel like I’ve seen them in their underwear. But it comes with some responsibility, privilege — and a little influence. It also comes with a big old mirror. A reflection of how I see them. Because how they see me is how I see them.
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?
And then it just, at some point, it became that way with. The way we were seen somehow changed. I have now been in people’s homes for over two decades. How many actors can say that?
Today, people see me exactly as I am.
I know the importance of having come out. I had help. 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.
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I am so hopeful today by so many LGBTQ+ people who are visible in my industry. (Somewhat ironically, when I came out, it was my industry who kept reporting, “Gay! She’s gay! Oh!” Meanwhile the public was going like, “Uh, duh! Really? That’s your headline?”)
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.
Now people ask me about [my partner] Amber like they would if her name was Andy. Sometimes I have to pause and take that in.
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.
I’ve learned we can all provide hope. We can all be accidental, incidental, beacons of recognition and representation. I’m not an activist. I say God bless the title because what they do is so important. But I think I’ve spawned activism in people. I like that. And we can do it without beating our chests and getting on a soapbox and getting in someone’s face and yelling at them about how they should be. By being our authentic selves, others can be motivated. They may even rally around it.
I love when people say, “I’m part of your tribe.” Because I know I am seen not despite of, but because of who I truly am: gay, and Black, and a woman.
I never understood when a parent would tell me it was not until I revealed my sexuality that they were able to accept their child. For whatever reason, my revelation allowed them to actually see their child because they had such respect and love for me.
That is the power of visibility.