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Thomas Roberts: I haven't faced anti-gay discrimination in Russia

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.”

Miss Universe hopefuls overcome odds, from cancer to racial barriers

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. 

  • Slideshow Photos

    Miss Universe 2013: The National Costume Show

    On Nov. 9, 86 ladies from around the world will vie for the title of Miss Universe in Moscow. Take a look at the contenders all dressed up in dramatic outfits inspired by their home countries for the annual National Costume Show.

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    Miss Universe 2013 national costumes -

    On Nov. 9, 86 ladies from around the world will vie for the title of Miss Universe in Moscow. Take a look at the contenders all dressed up in dramatic outfits inspired by their home countries for the annual National Costume Show.

    Olivia Wells, Miss Australia 2013, competes in her costume during the 2013 Miss Universe National Costume Show at the cultural and trading center in Moscow on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Austria -

    Doris Hofmann, Miss Austria 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow on Nov. 3.

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    Stefanie Guillen Evangelista, Miss Aruba 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Argentina -

    Brenda Gonzalez, Miss Argentina, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow on Nov. 3.

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    Vaumara Rebelo, Miss Angola 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow on Nov. 3.

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    Tsaone Macheng, Miss Botswana 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow on Nov. 3.

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    Aysel Manafova, Miss Azerbaijan 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow on Nov. 3.

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    Alexia Viruez, Miss Bolivia 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow on Nov. 3.

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    Lexi Wilson, Miss Bahamas 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Belgium -

    Noemie Happart, Miss Belgium 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow on Nov. 3.

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    Riza Santos, Miss Canada 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow on Nov. 3.

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    Miss China -

    Jin Ye, Miss China 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Croatia -

    Melita Fabecic, Miss Croatia 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Colombia -

    Lucia Aldana, Miss Colombia 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Czech Republic -

    Gabriela Kratochvilova, Miss Czech Republic 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Fabiana Granados, Miss Costa Rica 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Chile -

    Maria-Jesus Matthei, Miss Chile 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Eline de Pool, Miss Curacao 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Sharie de Castro, Miss British Virgin Islands 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Veneta Krasteva, Miss Bulgaria 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Brazil -

    Jakelyne Oliveira, Miss Brazil 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Dominican Republic -

    Yaritza Reyes, Miss Dominican Republic 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Ecuador -

    Constanza Baez, Miss Ecuador 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Gabon -

    Jennifer Ondo, Miss Gabon 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss France -

    Hinarani de Longeaux, Miss France 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Finland -

    Lotta Hintsa, Miss Finland 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Ethiopia -

    Maheder Tigabe, Miss Ethiopia 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss El Salvador -

    Alba Delgado, Miss El Salvador 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Estonia -

    Kristina Karjalainen, Miss Estonia 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Denmark -

    Cecilia Iftikhar, Miss Denmark 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Ghana -

    Hanniel Jamin, Miss Ghana 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Guatemala -

    Paulette Samayoa, Miss Guatemala 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Germany -

    Anne Julia Hagen, Miss Germany 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Guam -

    Alixes Scott, Miss Guam 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Greece -

    Anastasia Sidiropoulou, Miss Greece 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Great Britain -

    Amy Willerton, Miss Great Britain 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Guyana -

    Katherina Roshana, Miss Guyana 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Honduras -

    Diana Schoutsen, Miss Honduras 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Hungary -

    Rebeka Karpati, Miss Hungary 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Haiti -

    Mondiana Pierre, Miss Haiti 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss India -

    Manasi Moghe, Miss India 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Indonesia -

    Whulandary, Miss Indonesia 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Israel -

    Titi Yitayish Ayanaw, Miss Israel 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Italy -

    Luna Voce, Miss Italy 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Jamaica -

    Kerrie Baylis, Miss Jamaica 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Japan -

    Yukimi Matsuo, Miss Japan 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Aygerim Kozhakanova, Miss Kazakhstan 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Lithuania -

    Simona Burbaite, Miss Lithuania 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Lebanon -

    Karen Ghrawi, Miss Lebanon 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Korea -

    Yumi Kim, Miss Korea 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Netherlands -

    Stephanie Tency, Miss Netherlands 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Peru -

    Cindy Mejia, Miss Peru 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Mexico -

    Cynthia Duque, Miss Mexico 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Diya Beeltah, Miss Mauritius 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Panama -

    Carolina Brid, Miss Panama 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Slovenia -

    Nina Durdevic, Miss Slovenia 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Singapore -

    Shi Lim, Miss Singapore 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Amanda Ratnayake, Miss Sri Lanka 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Sweden -

    Alexandra Friberg, Miss Sweden 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Romania -

    Roxana Andrei, Miss Romania 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Jeanette Borhyova, Miss Slovak Republic 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Marilyn Ramos, Miss South Africa 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Serbia -

    Ana Vrcelj, Miss Serbia 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Switzerland -

    Dominique Rinderknecht, Miss Switzerland 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Spain -

    Patricia Yurena Rodriguez, Miss Spain 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Vietnam -

    Truong Thi May, Miss Vietnam 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Russia -

    Elmira Abdrazakova, Miss Russia 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Snwazna Adams, Miss Turks & Caicos 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Ukraine -

    Olga Storozhenko, Miss Ukraine 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Thailand -

    Chalita Yaemwannang, Miss Thailand 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss Tanzania -

    Betty Omara, Miss Tanzania 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Catherine Miller, Miss Trinidad & Tobago 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow, Russia, on Nov. 3.

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    Miss USA -

    Erin Brady, Miss USA 2013, competes in the National Costume Show in Moscow on Nov. 3.

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