Nov. 8, 2013 at 10:23 AM ET
While the world waits to find out who takes the title of Miss Universe 2013 in Moscow Saturday, many are also anxious to see how Russia’s anti-gay laws play out on the international stage.
That was a deciding factor when MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts, who is openly gay and vocal about gay rights, took on the job of co-hosting the pageant. Roberts, who has been in Russia for the past several days, says that he hasn’t yet experienced any discrimination there.
“It’s been an incredible experience so far,” he told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Friday. “I certainly don’t want to be a commercial for Russia… [but] I haven’t run into any discrimination so far since I’ve been here.”
Roberts has been criticized by some gay rights activists for accepting the hosting gig after Andy Cohen, Bravo executive and host, turned it down because of Russia’s discriminatory laws. Roberts defended his decision in an MSNBC.com op-ed, saying that he hoped to carry a “message of hope” and bring visibility to the gay community.
“Just by showing up, just by being visible, just by the sheer presence of my husband being there with me, and just the interest that this might generate in what my personal back story is … I think that just sends a strong message that you can have a highly successful professional career and a successful personal life and they can be integrated,” he told TODAY.com. “The LGBT community has the right to be outraged. But it’s not the time to shy away, it’s the time to show up. And it’s the time to make sure that you show up and that you’re visible, and that you’re respected, on an equal footing.”
Roberts shrugs off critics who say that the visibility he’s after is self-promotion and a big paycheck.
“There have been great people who have come out in support of this and they get what I mean by this role being too visible to pass up for an LGBT person, because [Miss Universe] is seen in over 190 countries by a billion people,” he said, adding, “It’s not about the money.”
The anchor has been “out and proud” since 2006, and married his husband, Patrick Abner, in 2012. While Roberts is used to being in the spotlight, Abner isn’t — but he still agreed to go to Russia, knowing the couple’s relationship could be put under a microscope.
“I had reservations at first,” Abner told TODAY.com. “All the attention around the mistreatment and violation of basic human rights of our LGBT community in Russia is scary. It brings back a lot of the feelings I had as a kid growing up in the South. That's why I feel it's so important for Thomas and I to go together as a united, married, loving, and committed couple. If there (are) one or two people who can look at our relationship and find any hope or inspiration, then the trip will be worth it.”
While in Russia, Roberts is documenting his experience in a video diary that will be posted on MSNBC.com, and he says he’ll be filing reports on the anti-gay laws and the causes for homophobia in the country.
Miss Universe will air Saturday, Nov. 9, at 9 p.m. ET on NBC. Roberts will co-host the pageant with style expert Jeannie Mai, reigning Miss Universe Olivia Culpo, Nick Templitz of sports website The Fumble, and former Spice Girl Mel B.