12/30/2013 03:36 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

The Coming Out of Robin Roberts: Why It Matters

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In this world of violence, lost unemployment benefits, and more tragic circumstances, I am often torn whether to post on social media, or in Windy City Times, the latest, greatest celebrity coming out event.

ABC's Robin Roberts, who has struggled so much with her health, has finally stated in public (on Facebook) what many people have known to be true: that she has a longtime girlfriend, Amber Laign.

It is almost 2014, and yet the coming out of this 53-year-old woman is still news.

Why should it matter who Robin has loved this past decade of her life? Isn't the goal to make this all not matter any more?

Well, we are decades if not centuries from it not mattering. It is a fact that being LGBT is not usually so "obvious" that people just "know" who we are. Most LGBT people easily "pass" and have to come out if they want to be recognized for who they truly are.

Robin Roberts is the perfect example of this. Many of my LGBT and in-the-know straight friends on Facebook acted as if this was no news to them. They always knew Roberts was gay. Some did know this first-hand, others had just heard the rumors. But just as it was a shock to 90 percent of the straight world when Anderson Cooper came out, this new coming out story will also be news to most people.

Being able to hide, to compartmentalize our lives, is no favor. It usually causes internalized homophobia, and I believe it is the leading cause of hypocrisy among politicians. It seems so easy to do, just to not talk about what you did last weekend, or to call your partner your roommate, to separately celebrate the holidays, or even live apart. But the price is paid, the damage done.

Each time a celebrity comes out with some aspect of their lives, whether that is being LGB or T, or whether that is being adopted, coming from a family of undocumented immigrants, or coping with a health crisis, it shapes our narrative of their lives, and ours. If we are transgender, the story of Laverne Cox or Alexandra Billings is something we glom on to. I am a lesbian, so when I hear of another woman coming out, it tugs a little at my heart and soul.

Yes, even after my own 50 years of life and having come out at around age 16, I relate to the life of a woman three years older, who took 34 extra years to come out. It was the same when Jodie Foster came out, someone just a few weeks older than me, someone who took decades to muster the same courage I was lucky to have as a teenager in the 1970s.

These "news" stories about LGBTs are news in part because we are never really taught LGBT history in the classroom. LGBTs and our allies are left to mostly fend for ourselves in this self-education about a huge part of history. It is why I created a new game to show just how amazing and diverse our movement has been. That's So Gay! A Game of LGBTQ Discovery is meant to be a fun way to learn about the history that has been kept from us, causing us to have low self-esteem and to always feel like the "other."

It doesn't help that we usually seem to move two steps forward and then one step back in this society (Utah and New Mexico get marriage equality, meanwhile despite racism and homophobia, Duck Dynasty gets to stay on the air because it makes A&E money).

I don't know why it was so relatively easy for me to come out, and it has been such a struggle for so many of my fifty-something peers. We each had our own paths to forge. My own family always had LGBT folks around (and I do mean all four of those LGBT letters). We had a commune-like home life of major diversity. My mom covered the 1960s civil-rights movement and Martin Luther King, Jr. My parents were worried for me, but always supportive. I came out very boldly in college, and never looked back.

I was mainly worried about being openly gay and a journalist, but soon realized I could never compromise my life for my career. Then, I was lucky my mom heard of a job at GayLife newspaper when I graduated from Drake University with a journalism degree in 1984. I started down an alternative path, while people including Robin Roberts and Anderson Cooper swam in the mainstream.

I could have never survived in that mainstream media world. I am glad I never tried. But I am equally glad that, finally, more mainstream journalists, and broadcast personalities, feel they can be out and proud, and still be respected journalists.

Robin Roberts represents a pivotal coming out for all of our country. It may seem small and petty to even care about this, but I am thinking about those millions who watch her every week, including the parents of LGBT youth -- especially the parents of African American LGBT youth since Roberts is a role model as an African American woman. Just as Ellen DeGeneres chips away at homophobia on her talk show, Roberts will join the ranks of everyday heroes of our movement, just succeeding at being their authentic selves.

Thank you Robin. Thanks for jumping in the public pool. You're already making waves.


Tracy Baim is co-founder and publisher of Windy City Times, Chicago's LGBT newspaper.