Leslie Roberts may not be a household name in the U.S., but he’s a well-known news anchor in Canada, co-hosting the show CTV Morning Live in Ottawa. And now he’s Canada’s newest openly gay public fugure.
While he’s been out to friends and family since 1989, he spoke out publicly about his sexuality for the first time last week. Roberts appeared in a segment on his morning show for Coming Out Day, telling his co-hosts that it was the perfect time to share this side of his life. “I’m a news anchor who just happens to be gay,” he said in the segment. “I’m not a gay news anchor.”
When he first came out at work in the late 1980s, Roberts said, he had a hostile reception. His father told him “your life is going to be harder because of this,” he recalled, adding that he had no role models at the time.
Roberts is descended from a journalism family, with a great-grandfather who founded a Montreal tabloid back in the 1920s. His grandfather worked in news, as did his father, and his brother is editor-in-chief of the National Post.
Roberts began his career at CKGM radio in Montreal in 1980, when he was a teenager. For his first decade as a reporter, he tackled any story that came his way, earning a reputation as an adaptable journalist would could report on a wide range of topics.
It was then that he came out to family and friends. At the time he was married and had a young daughter, and people told him that it would be the end of his career.
“The first thing everybody said was this is career suicide,” he said in the broadcast. “‘This will not connect with the viewers. This will mean the end of your career in television.’ Things have changed.”
Roberts moved to American television briefly in the 1990s, working for A Current Affair and reporting for a Fox affiliate in New York. But he was soon back in Canada, at Global Quebec before moving to Toronto.
Today, his reception is starkly different, havings been embraced by his colleagues and his employer. “I’ve never worked at a place that has been more inclusive and welcoming,” he said.
He was inspired to come out now by Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.
Watson came out earlier this year after a lifelong struggle over how open he could safely be.
"As I look back over my life, and in hindsight, not coming out sooner was a big mistake on my part," Watson wrote in an op-ed. Watson was mayor of Ottawa in the 1990s, and took up that post again in 2010. During his career, he has supported marriage equality and was the city’s first mayor to march in the Pride parade.
According to Roberts, Watson gently encouraged him not to wait.
"My reluctance has not allowed me to live my life as full of love and adventure as my gay friends who were bolder and braver than I ever was,” Watson wrote in his op-ed.
For his part, Roberts says he hopes this will deepen his connection with viewers. “I owed it to the audience to be more authentic,” he said. “I also owed it to my soul.”