LOS ANGELES — Stephanie Miller, the popular, nationally syndicated progressive radio talk show host, came out on her morning broadcast on Friday.
Miller teased her followers on Twitter for an hour (Stick around for the next hour, Mama’s got something to tell you and There may be a lot of crying next hour) before a breaking story about Judge Vaughn Walker forced her to get to the point on air. Even with the lead-in, saying the words she planned to say was not easy.
“I might just throw up,” she said, stalling. Then suddenly, she caught her footing and a bit of courage before blurting out, “I am a gay woman.”
Her public revelation was inspired by Chely Wright, the country singer who’s very public coming out last May not only made history but also launched a new life for the star. The singer likened her coming out as a rebirth, telling Oprah, “I feel like I’m about 2 weeks old,” when asked how it felt after years of hiding her secret.
Wright and Miller had met at a party around the time Wright had first come out and soonafter, Wright was a guest on Miller’s show. Since then, the two had become friends. During many private conversations, Wright kept gently tapping away, attempting to persuade the radio star to come out.
The beautiful, wry, and often tawdry radio host had never actually hidden the fact that she was a lesbian, she just never talked about it. She felt it wasn’t anyone else’s business, and she didn’t want to be defined by her audience or the suits at commercial radio or television.
“I’ve been in ‘boys clubs’ my whole life,” she told San Diego Gay & Lesbian News on Sunday. “I am marketed as a sexy host and my ads target men because talk radio is predominately men.
“The ad for my radio show says, Stephanie Miller – making men rise in the morning,” she continued. “I’m naturally flirty and have been that way since catholic school. But did anyone really ever think my ‘Future Husbands’ segment was serious?”
Although she did not carry a gay torch on her show, she did openly and actively support gay rights every chance she got, using her show, her public appearances and her guest spots on national broadcasts like Larry King Live, MSNBC, and Joy Behar as her pulpit; and that, she felt, was comfortable enough.
That is, until something Wright said during one of their many conversations finally resonated deeply within her.
“Chely said to me, ‘It is different to say you are FOR this than to say you ARE this,'” Miller said, quoting Wright. “She shot down all of my arguments.”
Wright’s re-appearance on the show Aug. 5 offered those paying attention a few clues of their shared and very private conversations. At one point, as Miller admitted that thanks to Wright she is now a liberal country music listener on her way to work, Wright quipped, “So essentially you are in the closet in your car. We’re gonna work on that and at some point we’re gonna get you publicly singing country music.”
“Don’t push me until I’m ready,” Miller responded through muffled laughter, to which Wright replied, “Baby steps.”
That radio show — mixed with today’s political climate and the overturning of Proposition 8 — pushed Miller’s mindset over the edge and helped propel the admission. She decided Thursday night that it was time, and because she is in syndication, there was no need to request permission for what she was about to do.
“Everyone has their tipping point, and this was my perfect storm,” Miller told her listeners on Friday and again to SDGLN on Sunday.
In the past couple of years, her talk show has featured hundreds of segments and guests focusing on the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, as well as Proposition 8 and both of these topics are currently peaking in the national conscience.
“I realized that I can’t authentically talk to [my listeners] about these issues anymore without walking in my truth. I can’t just stand on the sidelines as an unbiased observer,” she explained to SDGLN. “I was judging my audience like I had judged my family so many years ago.”
Miller had kept her sexuality from her family for 15 years and said it was an important lesson learned when she finally did share and found they were all incredibly supportive. She had spent the better part of those 15 years hiding who she was and who she was with, assuming her family would judge her, when in fact, she was judging them.
“I lost 15 years of closeness,” she told her audience Friday morning.
Born in Washington, D.C., but raised in Lockport, N.Y., Miller is the daughter of former U.S. Congressman and RNC Chairman William E. Miller. Her father left politics after joining Barry Goldwater in an unsuccessful run for the presidency in 1964 and returned to his law practice in Lockport. He died in 1983.
A former standup comic, Miller has been in radio off and on since the early ’80s, has also dabbled in acting, is a regular guest on the cable news network show circuit and even had her own late night television show, also called “The Stephanie Miller Show,” for a short time.
Growing up in a strict catholic, Republican household, Miller dated boys and even men when she was older because it seemed what she was supposed to do. She addresses her early sexual fluidity with a bit of trepidation, concerned it may misconstrue the fact that gays and lesbians are born that way. She freely admits that despite her many past attractions and relationships with men, she has always felt more comfortable in relationships with women.
Her high school sweetheart (“one of the best men I ever knew,” she said) died of AIDS at a time when Reagan was afraid to acknowledge the disease and conservatives were saying, “it is killing the right people.” His death and the public reactions to his disease affected her greatly.
Then former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan (who had supported her father’s presidential ticket in ’64) took the podium at the 1992 Republican Convention and gave his infamous “culture war” speech, one which decimated gays and lesbians, among others, on prime time television.
“I realized then that it was no longer my dad’s or Goldwater’s party.”
She is well-known for her liberal-leaning Stephanie Miller Show, which broadcasts weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon Eastern Time in U.S. cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Seattle and on XM Satellite Radio’s America Left channel 167.and streams live on her website. The show is based heavily on political satire and currently holds the No. 2 slot in Los Angeles.
In the segment following Miller’s coming out Friday morning, Wright called in to offer her support. Miller now playfully calls Wright her “coming out coach.”
“I am so incredibly proud of you,” Wright offered. “You’re gonna be a better journalist, a better neighbor, a better best friend and a better radio host, now that you are walking in your truth.
“My life is in color now; I felt before like I was stifled,” Wright said, referring to her own experience.
“Let’s advance our gay agenda,” Miller quipped. “You get a toaster oven for recruiting me, right?”
The two women bantered back and forth for a little while before getting more serious about the positive impact their coming out has on the community at large and especially others who are comfortable in their prejudice because they don’t think they know a gay person at all.
Miller feigned cowardice regarding her decision to come out to the liberal media when compared to Wright’s experience with a conservative-Christian majority in country music. She reminded Wright of another point she’d made during their discussions that had resonated with her.
“You said, ‘Those of us that can hide are the ones who need to come out,’ ” she recalled.
Miller then explained to her listeners that Wright was referring to the fact that many people do not “fit” the stereotypical expectation of what gays and lesbians look or act like. For this reason, it is even more incumbent upon those individuals to come out – to show that gays come from all walks of life, and are your sister, your daughter, your doctor and even your favorite country singer.
Miller decided it was time she became an example, too, but said she was shocked how many people were shocked that she indeed was gay.
“Radio Shack has recalled all their gay-dars [since Friday],” she joked.
Miller is keenly aware the time had to be right for herself and that it also must be right for others.
“I’m still against outing. Everyone’s process is different, and it doesn’t need to be on Barbara Walters’ timeframe,” a reference to Walters asking Ricky Martin on tv if he was gay. Martin came out earlier this year on his own terms.
Last Friday, she ended the coming out segment like this:
“That’s my truth; there it is. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
It is important to note that her listeners shouldn’t expect her radio show to turn into a gay radio show, but one with a host who is now more honest and truthful about her position on subjects that will undoubtably come up. We applaud Stephanie for taking this step.
In November, San Diego Gay & Lesbian News Copy Editor Morgan M. Hurley was a featured guest on Miller’s show regarding an article she had written about putting the proposed divorce ban on the ballot. To listen to that podcast and find a link to Morgan’s story, click HERE.
Morgan M. Hurley is the Copy Editor for SDGLN. She can be reached at (877) 727-5446, ext 710 or via e-mail at [email protected].