Thomas Roberts on His Russia Trip: 'Have a Little More Faith in Me'

In this exclusive interview, Thomas Roberts says he's 'dismayed' by the vocal criticism of his decision to host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

October 23 2013 3:10 PM ET

Going back to the pageant, how do you respond to folks who critique that fact this is a a trip to a homophobic country to host a pageant that is arguably sexist and is hosted by someone who doesn't believe you and your husband have the right to be married? How do you respond to critique that all of that doesn't necessarily amount to standing up for LGBT Russians?
Well, that’s a really loaded question. Let's pull it apart. The Miss Universe competition has existed and will continue to exist for a very long time. And I think that there are people that would say that it's outdated. But there are many women who have come up through this program in developing nations who have gone on to have great political careers, very wonderful careers [that] made a difference to the world. And it's more than about just the beauty part of things. I think there is a boldness and confidence and brains that we're all looking for in these modern times. Most of the Miss Universe winners then spend a year, like Olivia Culpo has — her platform was HIV/AIDS awareness, and she has spent the year educating and trying to raise awareness, using the crown on her head to do so. So the crown is a means to an end for these very smart women, to try to utilize the name and the brand to push through their agenda — and many of them are wonderful social agendas. So on that point I feel strongly. I certain commend Olivia Culpo for the work she’s done over the last year. 

In working with Donald Trump, I look forward to it. I’ve never had the opportunity before, so I shouldn’t make a prejudgment about it. And in regards to it being in Russia, this is an opportunity for me as a reporter and as a curious LGBT individual living in America, to go and learn a lot of things. It’s about so much more than me just showing up to cohost Miss Universe. Personally and professionally, it’s about so much more. So I would hope that people understand the reasons why I’m going are completely authentic. And I’ve been out there since 2006, trying to make it a little bit better in the smallest ways possible that I can, just by showing up. And I feel strongly that you got to show up.

I absolutely agree. Given that it’s clearly important for you to show up and to be out for a long time in your profession, what are your thoughts about media anchors who stay closeted?
I can only speak to my experience, and I know that I have never regretted it, and I’m really glad that I did it when I did it. And I think we’re seeing a domino effect of other great, wonderful people who have done the same thing. It only helps us in the long run. But, I think that the tide is turning. … There’s still a great deal of homophobia that exists in this country, but when the president comes out and is standing on your side, that’s a sea change. And that is really special. It’s important. I’ve said it and there are no take-backs. And I don’t think that anybody else is going to get to that White House without a message of inclusion like that and a recognition of integration of the contribution that LGBT Americans make in our beautiful country. So I want nothing but the best for any of us that are in their professions, but I don’t think that it's mutually exclusive that you can’t have a healthy professional life and a healthy personal life and be open and honest about it. You know, secrets are damaging. People can have a private life, but it's secret life that can be hurtful. And I think we’ve seen that time and again. When you can be fully integrated and your full self no matter what, and unafraid, it's you being the best you.  

That makes sense. Given that you’re going to Russia on this assignment and your husband will be with you, would you two ever consider vacationing in Russia?
I’ve never been before so, you’ll have to ask me after I get back.

It sounds like, overall, you generally don’t support a boycott across the board of Russian products and the country itself.
I think people have to make their own individual choices. What I support are the LGBT Russian people, who deserve equality. I don’t think that they need to be persecuted, I don’t think that they need to be shamed, I don't think they need to be treated and vilified through these homophobic laws, and that’s unfortunate. It’s very unfortunate. So we need to work in an international chorus against that. But I look at this as a great learning opportunity for myself, and this is a marathon for me, not a sprint.  

As another reporter covering this story, I can attest that it's a marathon. Do you have any thoughts about the legislation that has been introduced — and then withdrawn with the intent to reintroduce it — that would remove children from their gay and lesbian parents in Russia? Do you and your husband hope to have kids? Is that something that resonates with you?
Our personal life aside, I think that these are unrealistic laws that are trying to be processed though a very homophobic fashion. It’s unfortunate that they feel emboldened by headway made through the propaganda laws, to then try and do something like this. But they’re completely unrealistic, and they’re cruel. … But these laws are completely cruel and unusual, and they do nothing to stop LGBT people from being born and growing up and identifying as such. You know, my parents are straight. They have a gay son. We’re all part of this beautiful thing called nature, and it’s genetic — it’s a genetic lottery, what you get — and that's it. If we can all just agree that that is what happens through nature, then we can all be a whole lot better in recognizing that we can stand arm-to-arm and that we are recognized as equal individuals and not be vilified, not be criminalized, and certainly not demonized.  

I definitely agree — that's the goal. Well, that wraps up my questions. Do you have anything that you’d like to say that we didn’t touch on?
I just hope people would have faith in me. You know I feel real strongly that I’ve always tried to be, not a perfect example, but a good example, of someone who can have a wonderful professional and personal life, and trying to do the right thing by his community. I’ve never denied this community. I’ve been a part of it for a long time now, and I hope to remain a good member in standing for a long time to come. So, I just hope people would have faith in me.

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