The Advocate has obtained an in-depth interview with MSNBC's morning anchor Thomas Roberts on NBC's decision to send him to Moscow to host the Ms. Universe Pageant. The decision has generated some debate among activists who are appalled by the treatment of LGBT Russian citizens by their government and Putin's Punks.
However, there has not been a solidified approach by the community. Most everyone is now aboard that there will not be a boycott of the Olympics. That our athletes should attend and find a way to express their support. People like Elton John have agreed to sing in Russia and make a statement while he is there. Others have decided to boycott the nation. Right now it has been an individual decision on how best to change minds in this highly intense debate.
Rather you agree with Roberts decision or not, this is a man who has been there for the LGBT community time and time again. He has agreed to show up and lean his support to almost every organization that asked for his help. On his show on MSNBC he has time and time again been open about his own sexuality and showcased the community's issues. This is a fact no one can dispute.
Roberts is a journalist who works for NBC. Here are excerpts from the interview about his accepting this assignment by his employer:
The Advocate: In your op-ed with MSNBC, you said that you aggressively pursued the opportunity to host this pageant when it became available. What was the thinking behind that for you? Why did you want to host this event?
Thomas Roberts: My thinking was that it's such a large, visible opportunity. It's saying, in over 190 countries, to a billion people, that we have a place at the table, we have a seat, and why give that up? While the homophobic laws are a major concern, there are unfortunately LGBT discriminatory laws that exist in other countries beyond Russia, and I thought this was a huge visible opportunity not only for... our own country, for Russia as well, but for the 188 countries where this is going to be seen. So I thought this was a fantastic opportunity for people to learn about me being openly gay, and marriage, and my husband being with me, and send a strong message.
The Advocate: How would you respond to folks who say it's tough to see what life is like on the Russian playing field for LGBT people, when you are on a different level, and attending there with a different level of security than the average queer person in Russia enjoys?
Thomas Roberts: Well, in advance of making this decision to accept this assignment, a lot of critical thinking went into it. And that was me coordinating to reach out to LGBT Russian activists, and to do my homework, and to get a dialogue going with them. So I didn't make this decision without doing my homework, and I continue to have great drive about the purpose of why I'm going there, and why somebody like me can do a lot more than just host, cohost, Miss Universe. So, I'm aligned with a cable network, a television network, and if people don't think that I'm going to do reporting from there, they're crazy.
The Adovocate: You mentioned that you reached out, and did your homework before accepting this assignment. What was the response of Russian LGBT activists that you reached out to?
Thomas Roberts: I was told: don't boycott. I was told that this is too big of an opportunity, and that voices like theirs need representation. So, what they want is, while they don't feel safe, they want influential people to come in, and speak out. Not only can I speak out ahead of time, before going, but I also have a great capacity to cover and storytell. So, that's why this assignment was so attractive to me.
The Advocate: 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?
Thomas Roberts: 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.