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'GMA's' Robin Roberts' coming out seen as significant

'Good Morning America' co-anchor Robin Roberts acknowledges her girlfriend. Given her high profile, media watchers say, she's become a role model for gay people of color.

By Patrick Kevin Day

7:30 AM PST, December 31, 2013

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When "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts took to her Facebook page to count her blessings, express gratitude for her recovery from a rare blood and bone marrow disease and thank her longtime girlfriend, Roberts didn't just come out. As one of the most prominent personalities on TV, media watchers said, Roberts became an instant role model for young people who see few other openly gay people of color in the TV news business.

In a year-end post that expressed thanks for her recovery from myelodysplastic syndrome, Roberts wrote Sunday: "I am grateful for my entire family, my long time girlfriend, Amber, and friends as we prepare to celebrate a glorious new year together."

Coming out publicly is "no longer a People magazine cover and a book deal," said Omar Sharif Jr., a GLAAD spokesman and grandson of "Lawrence of Arabia" star Omar Sharif. "But it is significant for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender] people of color, who lack significant representation on TV."

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CNN anchor Don Lemon also noted the importance of Roberts' announcement, even in an era when more celebrities freely acknowledge that they are gay.

"I know plenty of people who still lead double lives," said Lemon, who is black and came out in his 2011 memoir. "It's important that someone like Robin comes out because stars are unattainable. How many people can be a movie star? But you have so many different journalists and TV news anchors and reporters who are in your home every single day, and in a way, we're more relatable. What we do is more attainable."

Roberts was on vacation and unavailable for further comment, a representative for "Good Morning America" said, but a statement released by ABC read: "We love Robin and Amber, who we have all known for a long time. We were so touched by Robin's Facebook message and so thankful for all the incredible support she has in her life."

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The anchor's announcement ends a year in which many notable public figures came out, including actress Maria Bello, actor Wentworth Miller and former NBA player Jason Collins. But few have as high of a profile as the "GMA" anchor.

Roberts' popularity and the goodwill that followed her bone marrow transplant have been credited for helping ABC to grab the top spot in morning show ratings last year after more than a decade trailing NBC's "Today." After taking time off at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, Roberts returned to the show last spring, and "Good Morning America" has remained No. 1 in total viewers throughout 2013. "GMA" is currently averaging 5.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen.

Reaction to Roberts' posting included expressions of support on social media from First Lady Michelle Obama and Rosie O'Donnell, among others. But many Twitter users wondered aloud if Roberts' mention of her girlfriend — Amber Laign, a massage therapist from the San Francisco area, the Associated Press reported — was even something the public should care about. As one Twitterer wrote: "In other news, the sky is blue and the grass is green."

But in a year when Alec Baldwin made headlines for shouting an anti-gay slur to a paparazzo and "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson was suspended (and subsequently reinstated) after expressing his disapproval of gay people, for many, coming out remains anything but a nonissue.

patrick.day@latimes.com

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