In 25 years, The Oprah Show has covered just about every gay issue imaginable—homophobia, gay marriage, even a whole family who is gay. One of the most memorable of these shows was in 1995, when Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis spoke publicly for the first time about being gay and HIV-positive. "That was a very big deal then," Oprah says.
"I got to the point where I would just hide in my house with my dogs because I knew it was safe," Greg said. "Because if I was out in public, then I had to edit myself. I was feeling like a fake and also I was feeling, how could anybody accept me if they knew me?"
When Greg told his story, it made a profound impact on a boy named Michael. "When I was 12 years old, I knew I was gay. I was really struggling trying to come to terms with it," Michael says. "I was definitely afraid if my parents found out I was gay, they were going to disown me."
Michael says though he was not allowed to watch The Oprah Show back then, he would sneak peeks while his parents were away at work. "They would usually come home about 5 o'clock, and you were on about 4 o'clock," Michael says to Oprah. "I was watching your show and in between commercials I was running to make sure the car wasn't pulling up to the driveway."
Michael says seeing Greg speak openly about being gay was a first step in his coming out process. "I still knew that I wasn't going to be able to come out anytime soon, but it planted the seed within me," he says.
In his freshman year of high school, Michael says he realized his chance to come out. "My mother sat me down and asked me, did I think I was gay? And in that moment, I thought about Greg saying that he was going to be living a truthful and honest life, and I knew that I had an opportunity to mirror that," he says. "So I told my mother, 'No, I don't think I'm gay. I know I'm gay.'"
Michael reached out to the man who had so deeply impacted his life over the years, but they've never met face-to-face...until today! Greg surprises Michael with a hug.
"Twenty-five years later, I still love it when that happens!" Oprah says.
Michael says meeting Greg after all these years is surreal. "I remember what it was like when I was 12. I was on my elbows watching the show," he says. "I'd never seen another gay person. I thought I was the only one."
After seeing Greg on The Oprah Show, Michael says he bought Greg's book, Breaking the Surface. "I was so grateful [my parents] didn't watch Oprah, because if [they] knew, they were so conservative they would never have let me read it," he says. "All they knew is you were an Olympic gold diver, and 'maybe he wants to get into sports or something.'"
Twenty years after testing positive for HIV, Greg says his health is on an upswing from a new combination drug regimen. "When I first did your show, as soon as I had a sniffle, a sore throat, a scratchy throat it was like, 'Oh, my God, I'm dying,'" he says. "But now it's just like, you know what? I'm okay. I don't feel in peril."
Despite feeling better, Greg says he feels that some young people don't realize the severity of HIV and AIDS. "I wouldn't wish my drug regimen on anyone," he says. "Because some of the therapies are pretty severe."
Greg started coaching a diving camp at the end of 2010 and says he's excited to be back in the pool.
In 2006, Chris, a wife and mother of two boys, explained how she came to realize she was gay. Her husband, Joe, told Oprah he supported Chris's exploration of her sexuality...then dropped his own bombshell. "One of the main reasons I believe that I supported Christine through her coming out is because I myself was gay," he said.
Chris and Joe's sons Alex and Miles, who were 14 and 12 at the time, said the hardest thing about having two gay parents was weathering bullying comments at school. "I just want people to know that don't be afraid to be yourself," Alex said. "Don't feel like you have to keep everything a secret and, like, locked up. Don't be afraid to show your emotions."
After appearing on The Oprah Show with his parents, Alex, now 19, says the taunting from some classmates continued as before, but he developed an effective way to deal with them. "I took it with a grain of salt, you know. I found that turning it into humor, flipping it around back on them, made it easier for me."
Miles says in addition to some negative reactions, he's experienced the positive effects of his parents' coming out on The Oprah Show. "I have lots of people that come up to me and ask me questions on how to come out to their parents," he says.
Alex says having gay parents doesn't change anything at home because he knows they love him and his brother. "That's what it comes down to in the end," he says. "I mean, love is love. If you're gay, you're still going to love your children the same amount as if you were heterosexual."
Joe says the way he and Chris hid their true feelings from each other was "the great secret." "Just tuck it away and don't deal with it," he says.
When Chris returned home after revealing the truth about her sexuality on national television, she says she felt like a "gay rock star." She says she also discovered something about relationships between two closeted partners. "I think it's way more common than you think," she says. "Two gay people coming together and just kind of knowing that they have this fluidity."
Jodie, a trained psychologist and certified life coach, says she watched Chris and Joe on The Oprah Show in 2006. "I remember thinking, 'How did they not know?'" she says. "'How did they go through the marriage without knowing that they were gay?'"
Her life to that point was just as she'd always dreamed it would be: She was married to her husband, Charlie, for 10 years, had two young daughters and a home in the suburbs.
Then, at a professional retreat, Jodie met someone else—named Kristine. Jodie says she had never thought she was gay until meeting Kristine. "I had never felt this way about another person before in my entire life," she says. "I couldn't figure it out. Like, I wanted to be near her but was scared to be near her. It was all very confusing."
After seeing another episode of The Oprah Show on sexual fluidity, Jodie says she was ready to tell Charlie the truth.
Jodie told Charlie to sit down and revealed the truth. "I said, 'I have fallen in love with a woman, Kristine.' And he said, 'I'm happy for you,'" Jodie says. "I said, 'Okay.' I mean, I was so nervous, I didn't even know what type of reaction he was going to have."
As they continued to talk, Charlie shared his own secret. "I told her that I was also attracted to men, and that it was something that I wanted to explore," he says.
Charlie says he had suspected that he might be gay for some time. "But I had never talked about [being gay] with anyone," he says. "I was confused because I also had feelings for Jodie. It just confused me more than anything, and so it took me a long time to accept that."
Today, both Jodie and Charlie are in new relationships—Jodie is with Kristine, and Charlie is with Michael.
Their daughters are now aged 7 and 4. "Their transition has been what would be expected of any children who are going through a divorce," Jodie says. "We try to give them the language to understand what's happening. 'Mommy fell in love with Christine, and daddy fell in love with Michael. And how lucky are you to have so many special people in your life?'"
In 2007, Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of Rajpipla, India stepped out of the closet and into a firestorm of controversy when he announced to the world he is gay. His mother took out an ad in the newspaper disowning him and threatening anyone who referred to him as her son. His father was convinced he could be changed into a heterosexual.
By coming out, Prince Manvendra even risked his freedom. At the time in India, being gay was legal, but homosexual acts were punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Today, Prince Manvendra works with the Lakshya Trust, an organization he started, to advocate for the rights of gay Indians and has worked to increase HIV/AIDS awareness in his country.
Prince Manvendra says his relationship with his mother remains strained. He still lives in his family's palace, but in a section far from where his mother lives. "We still bump into each other," he says.
Prince Manvendra's father, however, is more supportive. He blames societal pressures for initially taking the stand of publicly disowning his son. Prince Manvendra says his father even attends Lakshya Trust functions.
India has changed as well. Homosexual acts are no longer illegal, and gay Indians have started asserting their rights. In 2007, a gay pride parade in India would have been unthinkable—now they are regular fixtures in the country. "Not only just Mumbai," Prince Manvendra says. "We have pride [parades] happening [at] other places in India as well: in Delhi, in Calcutta, in South India."
Prince Manvendra says being a guest on The Oprah Show has opened many opportunities for dialogue. "I'm noticing that we are now getting comfortable to the terms. The mainstreaming has started happening," he says. "A lot of guys are actually coming out to their parents, and a few of them have even come out to the society."
In 2005, Kim and Amanda—a mother and daughter—appeared on an Oprah Show episode called "When I Knew I Was Gay." Amanda said she had known she was gay for as long as she could remember. At 10 years old, Amanda told her mother she was gay, but Kim dismissed it.
Then, at 17, Kim walked into Amanda's room and found her with another girl. "The night that my mom found out that I was a lesbian was probably the most horrible night of my entire life," Amanda said.
Today, Amanda and Kim have more of an understanding, thanks in part to a conversation they had with Oprah's chief of staff, Libby Moore. "I asked Libby to speak to Kim and Amanda because I wanted you, especially, to see that Libby was a happy and successful gay woman," Oprah says to Kim. "Two hours later, I look in Libby's office, and you all are still in there."
"I related to what Amanda was saying because you reminded me so much of myself when I was your age," Libby says. "And you reminded me so much, Kim, of my mother. I knew my whole life that I was gay. I came out when I was 27. At that point, I weighed 205 pounds. I was drinking a lot, eating a lot, because I couldn't come to terms with my truth, which is that I was gay and I'd known my whole life."
Libby acted almost as a translator between mother and daughter, Amanda says. "I didn't understand a word she was saying,” Amanda says of her mother. “We were speaking the same language, of course, but it didn't come across to me as something I could internalize and understand until I heard it from a woman who could relate to my mom on this particular level who was also gay. I was like, clearly [Libby] doesn't have any ulterior motives here. She's a lesbian too, she's on my team."
"It just put things into perspective," Kim says. "I don't want Amanda to be anybody other than who she is. I'm so proud of her and I love her so much and I wouldn't change a thing about her. It just took me a little time."
Printed from Oprah.com on Saturday, March 15, 2014