I was pulling up to my apartment after running errands when I got word that Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts publicly thanked her longtime girlfriend, Amber Laign, for standing by her side during her harrowing battle with cancer. I practically leaped from the car, grocery bags in tow.
As the editor-in-chief of ELIXHER, an awarding-winning website and bi-annual magazine for Black lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women, it’s my job to stay abreast of news and issues that affect my community. As a African American woman living and loving at the intersection of these identities, it is my privilege to witness more and more Black public figures unapologetically walking in their truth and doing so on their own terms. There is a deep sense of pride that fills me. Just when I feel like I couldn’t be any prouder to be who I am, that I couldn’t strut any harder or hold my head any higher without emitting rainbows, enter another proud and out Black woman showing up weekly in America’s living rooms.
In the moving end-of-year Facebook message, Roberts thanked the fans and loved ones that have supported her during a challenging year. There was no parade, glitter or unicorns. She didn’t “come out” as so many media outlets immediately reported. In a subtle sentence in a thank you note, almost as mundane as a to-do list or as uneventful as taking out the trash, she let the rest of the world be privy to part of her personal life and identity.
“At this moment I am at peace and filled with joy and gratitude,” Roberts wrote. “I am grateful for my entire family, my long time girlfriend, Amber, and friends as we prepare to celebrate a glorious new year together.”
Roberts’ sexual orientation and 10-year relationship with Laign was no secret. Family, friends, and colleagues knew. Though Roberts kept her relationship with Laign, a massage therapist, private, the couple had been photographed together several times, including at an award show back in July. Some of us, the public (myself included), already knew. But that didn’t change the gravity of the “news.”
At a time when Black gay and transgender youth are more likely to end up homeless and living on the streets, often kicked out of their families and homes because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, visibility matters.
When studies tell us that more than 80% of LGBT students of color hear the word “gay” used in a negative way, visibility matters.
When 73.1% of all anti-LGBT homicide victims in 2012 were people of color, visibility matters.
It’s been proven that people move along their acceptance of LGBT people after personally knowing someone who is gay or viewing an LGBT person onscreen. Together families realize gay and transgender people are just trying to survive and thrive. As television personalities who just happen to be gay like Roberts—brilliant and beautiful with a beaming smile paired a powerful story of survival and success (she just signed a $20 million contract with GMA)—LGBT youth and adults feel affirmed. We see models of triumph and of harmonious intersectionality.
We see Black LGBT women refusing to “check” a box. Instead they are embodying and harnessing what it means to be what life coach Marsha Philitas (herself a queer woman of color) of the Trifecta Tribe appropriately calls a “trifecta” (which plays off the term in the gambling world that refers to winning three games at once). Yes, we are on the margin in three major arenas of oppression, but as Black lesbian/bisexual/transgender women, we’re also “winning” in three very important and empowering ways. Women like Roberts are proof of that.
It’s no surprise that everyone from viewers to celebrities to the First Lady have been sending Roberts signs of support.
In a tweet from the @FLOTUS account signed “mo,” Michelle Obama wrote: “.@RobinRoberts, I am so happy for you and Amber! You continue to make us all proud.”
Can we take a moment to let that sink in?
The First Lady of the United States, wife to the first African American president—who also happened to be the first sitting commander-in-chief to affirm his support of marriage equality—sent a message of not just tolerance but celebration to her half a million followers.
Over 61,000 “likes” and 10,000 Facebook comments later, I am grateful to Roberts for serving as a reflection of what it means to be a Black gay woman. It’s one I look forward to staring back at in the mirror every day. It’s an image that gets clearer every year to more and more Americans.
Thank you, Robin Roberts for being a part of that beautiful mosaic.
Kimberley McLeod is a media strategist and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocate. A native of Trinidad and Tobago, she is the founder and editor-in-chief of ELIXHER, an award-winning online destination for Black LGBT women. Follow her on Twitter @KimKMcLeod.