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Video: ‘Family Ties’ mom reveals she is lesbian

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    >>> she's one of the most beloved tv moms of all time. meredith baxter starred as the matriarch of the keaton family on " family ties " for seven seasons. and in recent years, she's devoted a lot of her time to her skin care line and her breast cancer fund. but this morning she's here to reveal something about herself. meredith , good morning. nice to see you.

    >> good morning, matt. how are you doing?

    >> i'm doing great. how are you doing? because before we talk specifically about what we're going to talk about, i'm interested about your comfort level in talking about this on national television.

    >> well, i have to admit to a certain level of anxiety. i'm a very private person. i've always lived a very private life , and to come out and disclose stuff is, it's really anathetical to who i am.

    >> and what you want to disclose is? you want me to say it or do you want to say it? i don't know, what's the appropriate etiquette here?

    >> i'm just going to say that i am a lesbian, and it was a later in life recognition of that fact.

    >> there are people right now sitting at home --

    >> going, what? what!

    >> and they may have to push their jaws back up because they think of you as the quintessential tv mom, but they also, if they followed your life at all, as fans would, know that you are three times married with five children --

    >> was.

    >> exactly, not still. that's illegal in most states. but that you were married three times with five children, and they're saying, wait a second, when did this happen?

    >> you know, it's an excellent question, and some people are saying, were you living a lie? and you know, the truth is, not at all. you know, this has only been the past seven years.

    >> was it meeting one particular person that opened your eyes in this way, was it a different series of events? what happened?

    >> yes. i got involved with someone i never expected to get involved with, and it was that kind of awakening. and i never thought it, because it was like, oh, i understand why, you know, i had the issues i had early in my life. i had very difficulty -- a great deal of difficulty connecting with men in relationships, you know. sometimes i assumed i was a bad picker, which i was, indeed, but i also was involved with people who made me think, oh, they're the problem, because there were problems with the people i chose. so, i never -- it never occurred to me to think, oh, it's me.

    >> so, this first relationship you had with another woman, did it create one of those "b" movie moments, where you go home and where you look in the mirror and you go "i'm gay," and you repeat it six or seven times, or was it a more subtle?

    >> it was just like, okay. okay, i see, i get it. all right, fine.

    >> talk to me about discussing this with your children. as i mentioned, you have five children. they range in age from 40s to 20s --

    >> right now? my youngest are the 25-year-old twins, and they range up to my oldest is 42.

    >> what'd you say?

    >> you know, i said "i think i'm gay." my oldest boy said "i knew." you know, i think he's a smart aleck , but the most of them were just very loving and supportive. and i wasn't sure how i was going to tell my step dad , who is an old comedy writer , producer, and my mom had died like the year before. and i went to allen, i said, "i'm dating women." and he said, "hmm, so am i." and that was it.

    >> matter of fact.

    >> my -- the support in my family, from my family and anyone close to me has been so immediate and unqualified. i've really been blessed.

    >> you're involved in a relationship now with someone who i know is very special to you, i think for the past four years or so.

    >> just about four years.

    >> nancy .

    >> mm-hmm, nancy locker.

    >> and nancy has been out her whole adult life.

    >> yes.

    >> so, what was it like, meredith , to mesh this lifestyle you were living, which was somewhat closeted, with a relationship with someone who was openly gay ? how did you manage that?

    >> well, at first, it was a little tough. and as much as my family knew, you know, i was not ready to make any big announcement. i didn't want to do that. and there was one time when i said -- when i was concerned that there might be some press interest and --

    >> tabloids, photographers, things like that?

    >> yeah, i didn't know, but i got a little paranoid, and i said -- and nancy is a general contractor , so, she has a truck, as you do if you're a contractor.

    >> right.

    >> and i said, you know, "could you park down the street, please?" just -- and she said, "no." so, i go, all right, all right. and you know, i had to reach a level of comfort, because i wasn't, you know, it wasn't fun to put her back in some kind of secrecy. and the nice thing is we live very out lives in los angeles .

    >> and no one has really made a big deal of it.

    >> no.

    >> i do understand, meredith , that one of the tabloids is going to be publishing a story about that, and that might --

    >> there was a threat.

    >> -- serve as some impetus to talk about it now. but i also read that when you say "we live very out lives," you went on a cruise not long ago.

    >> yes.

    >> that was with 1,200 lesbians.

    >> yes.

    >> and so, at some point, you're kind of -- you were asking to be revealed.

    >> that is the truth. you know, i don't want to be worried all the time, and there's some level of concern just because i am so private, and you know, i knew i was pushing it, and i guess i was taking a step thinking, okay, let's just let it happen .

    >> let's get it over with.

    >> let it happen . but the truth is, i did not want some tabloid to take some story and make it up, so i wanted it to be in my own words, because my " family ties " crew and i were here two years ago with you.

    >> right.

    >> you were the guy.

    >> and you said it was interesting, you were talking to me two years ago about " family ties " and nancy was back in the hotel. so, you were living this life that you couldn't reveal.

    >> and i want to say, all my pals on " family ties " know. they all knew here. we all had dinners together and michael gross and his wife and nancy and i go out, we go out many times together. it's all okay.

    >> most importantly, a couple of -- are you very happy now?

    >> i'm extraordinarily happy. and you know, i want to say that that -- i'm not a very political person. i have done political things before, but it's been brought to my attention that this is a political act, even though that's not what it feels like to me. it just feels like personal exposure, and it's uncomfortable. but my understanding is that so much research has been done that says that if anybody knows someone who is gay or lesbian, then when they are addressing gay or lesbian issues, political issues that affect their rights, they're less likely to vote against them, to take away their rights. so, if you knew me before and you cared about me before, i'm the same woman. i'm the same mother to all these children. and if i can be that lesbian you know now, okay, well, if i vote this way, then that actually might affect this person i know, that meredith .

    >> so, how does it feel now that we've talked about it?

    >> i'm going to die.

    >> you survived.

    >> yeah. are we done?

    >> yeah. thank you so much.

    >> thank you, matt.

    >> for talking with me. i really appreciate it.

    >> thanks for being the guy.

    >> thanks. and you can read more about meredith 's story in this week's issue of "people" magazine. we're back in a

By
TODAY staff
updated 12/7/2009 7:48:50 PM ET 2009-12-08T00:48:50

For seven years, actress Meredith Baxter has been hiding a secret.

Now Baxter, who played the devoted hippie mom constantly butting heads with her conservative kids on “Family Ties,” is making a public admission.

“I am a lesbian and it was a later-in-life recognition,” she told Matt Lauer on TODAY. “Some people would say, well, you’re living a lie and, you know, the truth is — not at all. This has only been for the past seven years.”

Baxter, 62, though anxious, decided to come out on national television after her sexuality became tabloid fodder.

“I’ve always lived a very private life,” said the actress, who’s never even had a publicist. “To come out and disclose stuff is very antithetical to who I am.”

The National Enquirer reported that Baxter was spotted last month aboard a Caribbean cruise sponsored by lesbian travel company Sweet, writing that she was seen “traveling with a female friend, and she seemed very relaxed and comfortable.”

Baxter admitted that she did indeed take the vacation with her girlfriend, despite the threat that the couple would be outed.

“I don’t want to be worried all the time,” she said. “I knew I was pushing it.”

On Tuesday, celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, known for bullying stars such as Neil Patrick Harris and Lance Bass to out themselves, posted photos of Baxter nuzzling her girlfriend.

Such exposure was exactly what Baxter wanted to avoid, and that led her to share her story.

“I did not want some tabloid to take the story and make it up — I wanted it to be in my own words,” she told Lauer.

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An awakening
Baxter says that her relationship with men was complicated, and it took her decades to understand why.

In 1966 she married her first husband, Robert Lewis Bush, and they divorced five years later; she married her second husband, David Birney, in 1974, and they divorced in 1989; she married her third husband, Michael Blodgett, in 1995, and they divorced in 2000.

She explained that she deliberately chose to be with men with whom she clashed, so that she could blame them for the end of the relationship. “It never occurred to me to think, oh, [the problem is] me,” she said.

Then, seven years ago, she had a relationship with a woman and concluded that she was homosexual. Suddenly, things seemed to make sense.

“I got involved with someone I never expected to get involved with, and it was that kind of awakening,” she said. “I never fought it because it was like, oh, I understand why I had the issues I had early in life. I had a great deal of difficulty connecting with men in relationships.”

‘We live very out’
Baxter has been with her current girlfriend, Nancy Locke, a contractor she met through mutual friends, for the past four years. Because Locke is openly lesbian, their relationship has not been kept a closely guarded secret.

Image: Meredith Baxter and girlfriend
TODAY
Baxter has been with her current girlfriend, Nancy Locke, a contractor, for four years.

“I had to reach a level of comfort because it wasn’t fair to push her back into secrecy,” she said. “We live very out lives in Los Angeles.”

But, until now, that level of comfort only extended so far. Last year, Baxter and her former “Family Ties” cast mates reunited on TODAY. Locke stayed back at the hotel, still a part of Baxter’s life that she wasn’t yet ready to reveal to the world.

Both Baxter’s former on-screen family and her real family have known about her sexuality, though she was initially nervous about telling her five children.

“I said, ‘I think I’m gay,’ and my oldest boy said, ‘I knew,’ ” Baxter laughed. “The support from my family and anyone close to me has been so immediate and unqualified. I’ve really been blessed.”

Slideshow: ‘Family Ties’ cast is all grown up

Baxter was hand-picked by “Family Ties” creator and producer Gary David Goldberg to play mom Elyse Keaton on the critically acclaimed sitcom, which ran from 1982 to 1989. The show’s wit and humor came from the relationship between liberal parents Elyse and Steven (played by Michael Gross) and their conservative children, specifically, card-carrying young Republican Alex P. Keaton, played by the show’s breakout star, Michael J. Fox.

When the show ended, Baxter went on to direct and star in several TV movies, winning a daytime Emmy Award in 1993 for portraying a lesbian mom in the CBS Schoolbreak Special, “Other Mothers.”

These days, she’s taken on a few roles, including promoting her skin care line, Meredith Baxter Simple Works. She is also a public speaker and advocate, traveling the country discussing her personal battles with breast cancer and alcoholism.

Now that she is coming out, she also sees herself as an advocate for gay rights.

“This is a political act, even though that’s not what it feels like to me,” she said. “If anyone knows someone who’s gay or lesbian … they’re less likely to vote against them to take away their rights. I can be that lesbian you know now …”

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

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