October 5, 1972– Thomas Roberts:
“It all starts at home. It begins when LGBTQ people speak up for their authentic selves. The ignition switch has been flipped and we will keep seeing honest conversation about how LGBTQ people are woven importantly into the world fabric.”
Handsome Thomas Roberts made history on Saturday, July 18, 2015 when he anchored the NBC Nightly News making Roberts the first out and proud gay anchor of an evening newscast on any of the major television networks.
His lead story on the broadcast was Donald Trump’s negative comments about Senator John McCain. In a crazy coincidence, Roberts was booked to co-host The Miss USA Pageant, but he dropped out because of Trump’s hateful, racists rants about Mexicans.
In the world of broadcast news, there are only a few openly gay evening news anchors: MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Steve Kornacki, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon, Jane Velez-Mitchell of Headline News, Robin Roberts and Sam Champion of ABC’s Good Morning America, but Thomas Roberts was the first to host on one of the four major networks.
In 2013, Roberts interviewed Trump about his relationship with Vladimir Putin. Roberts:
“Do you have a relationship with Vladimir Putin? A conversational relationship or anything that you feel you have sway or influence over his government?”
The Big Orange Thing:
“I do have a relationship and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today. He’s probably very interested in what I am saying today, and I’m sure he’s going to be seeing it in some form.”
But, back to the birthday boy: In September 2000, Roberts was just 27-years-old, living in Norfolk, Virginia, working at the local NBC affiliate, and only out of the closet to a few friends and colleagues, when a friend invited him to a party where he happened to strike up a conversation with Patrick Abner, also 27-years-old and equally as handsome.
“I thought: ‘There is no way this guy is gay. I can’t be this lucky. There were sparks, but I played my cards close to the chest. I was a bit guarded.”
“I was a bit afraid of jumping into a relationship. It didn’t seem like the timing was right.”
But fate stepped in and Roberts and Abner ran into each other again, this time at a Halloween party in New Orleans and neither was going to let the opportunity pass them by. Roberts invited Abner to meet his family at Thanksgiving, even though he had only recently come out to them. For the next year, one of them drove five hours each way to spend weekends together.
In 2001, Roberts was offered a job at a CBS affiliate in Philadelphia, where Abner lived and they moved in together. But almost immediately, Roberts was offered the chance to work for CNN. They were so much in love that Abner made the move to Atlanta so they could be together, purchasing their first home as a couple.
Five years later, Abner was transferred to Washington D.C. for his work. CNN had nothing to offer Roberts in the nation’s capital, so he quit CNN and moved to Washington so they could be together. Roberts was unable to find work. He became depressed. Their relationship suffered.
Roberts was eventually offered to host the The Insider, a daily showbiz news show in Hollywood, 3000 miles from Abner. The couple found it too difficult to sustain a bicoastal relationship, and six months later, Abner took a job in L.A. so they could be together again. Then… Roberts was fired. They stayed in L.A., but times were tough with just one paycheck.
The couple wanted to get married in California. But then, Proposition 8 passed, taking away Marriage Equality in that state, and so they decided to move to NYC. Roberts found a job at MSNBC after freelancing for a while, and Abner found employment at Merck Pharma, as community liaison in its HIV Division.
When Marriage Equality came to New York in June 2011, they finally were able to marry. The ceremony was on the rooftop of the Gansevoort Park Avenue Hotel. The impossibly handsome Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California, officiated. Among the many guests was Sam Champion. That must have been a whole lot of handsome that day.
But, Roberts had been carrying around a big secret: he had been sexually assaulted by his parish priest in Baltimore, while he was growing up. With his husband’s help, Roberts went to counseling and then to the police. The priest was charged with sexual abuse of a minor. He was convicted and served 18 months in prison. Roberts discussed his abuse in a special segment on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 called Sins Of The Father.
Roberts had publicly come out of the closet while speaking at the annual convention of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) in 2006. Roberts was a member of a panel called Off Camera: The Challenge of LGBT TV Anchors. He told the audience that the conference was the biggest step he had taken to really be out in public and that he had slowly been coming out over the past several years.
In 2005, he was approached by People Magazine to be one of the publication’s 50 Sexiest Bachelors, but he declined, saying:
“I’m not a bachelor. It would be false advertising… I don’t think this is the right venue to talk about it.”
Roberts received an Emmy Award nomination for his documentary Parvo Puppies (2002), and an Edward R. Murrow Award for a documentary he produced, When Parents Don’t Pay (2010). He was the recipient of the prestigious Visibility Award from the Human Rights Campaign in 2011 and GLAAD’s Vito Russo Award in 2015.
On an episode of Chelsea Handler’s Netflix series Chelsea that aired in September 2016, over a dinner party with guests: pundit S.E. Cupp, comic W. Kamau Bell, former Obama White House Chief of Staff David Axelrod, and actor Sheryl Underwood; Roberts was pressed about his personal politics, and he owned up to being “a Conservative, but not a Republican in today’s GOP”.
Roberts currently anchors MSNBC Live, the daytime news show, weekends from 5-7pm ET.
“Being gay is a blessing. Coming out was not easy. It was a ring of fire. And we can be our own worst enemy. But I’m happy with who I am, being married to a wonderful husband.”