Before the likes of Robin Roberts, Anderson Cooper and others, Thomas Roberts made history as the first network anchor to come out.
That was back in the day when he worked at CNN in Atlanta. He moved away not long afterwards but now he and his partner of 19 years, Patrick Abner, are back in the area. Last July he returned to the city to be an anchor on the Atlanta affiliate CBS46, where he can be seen evenings covering news and issues that excite him, like politics.
Ironically, being on air was never the plan for Roberts. While he was at Western Maryland College, majoring in communication and minoring in journalism, he was required to take an internship. He missed the deadline for The Baltimore Sun but was allowed to intern at a TV station. The station was CV3 — Prestige Cablevision — and Roberts was hooked from day one. “I fell in love with the immediacy of it all,” he admits. “I was supposed to be there two hours the first day and I was there eight. They could hardly get me to leave. From that day forward, I changed the trajectory of what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to be a reporter, but I wanted to try TV.” He landed a job at the station after school.
He moved around a lot including San Diego, California; Lincoln, Nebraska; Fort Myers, Florida; and Portsmouth, Virgina. By this time he had an agent and was looking to make a move to Philadelphia. A job was available there — which he interviewed for — but when he returned home, CNN made contact with his agent. Roberts knew he had to pursue it.
On the way to the interview, he stepped in a wad of bright green gum outside and was a bit freaked out. The incident turned out to be a tension breaker, though, and after a Friday interview he received an offer the following Monday.
That was in 2001 and Roberts stayed at CNN for six years. “It was a great time. It was right after the AOL/Time Warner merger and they were looking to do new things. 9/11 had just happened and everybody was turned upside in terms of what news meant to people,” he said.
In 2006, while at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association convention in Miami, Roberts made the decision to come out as gay publicly. Getting to that point was scary, however. “I was petrified of doing it. There were no examples of successful out broadcast journalists, and no real path. Until Don Lemon came out, it was a lonely island,” he said.
Roberts left Atlanta the following year, and after stints in Los Angeles with Entertainment Tonight and The Insider, he wound up at MSNBC in 2010, where his show Live with Thomas Roberts won an Emmy Award for its coverage of the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. Now he’s back in Atlanta doing what he loves and in a familiar territory. CBS46 is known for being gay-friendly and last year the station broadcast the Atlanta Pride parade in its entirety, with plans to do so again this year. “It’s nice to know that LGBTQ stories here are looked at with the same equity (as others).”
When he’s not at the station, Robert enjoys working out, traveling and spending time renovating his new Morningside house. He already feels at home. “New York was exciting but we needed a change,” he says. “Because of our comfort level here, it made it easier to come back to Atlanta.”