Would you take career advice about being out in the workplace from someone who worked for 23 year at Fox News, 20 of them in the closet? Shepard Smith seems to think so. He recently addressed the National Association of LGBTQ Journalists (NLGJA) at the group’s virtual 2021 National Convention, offering his views on being out in the workplace in conversation with CNBC producer Brandon Gomez.
“I am not here to be your token,” Smith told the group. “I don’t want to be the gay journalist, I want to be the journalist who is gay.”
Of course, except for the last five years of his three-decade plus career, Smith wasn’t a gay journalist. Or at least an out one.
In fairness to Smith, who was once married to a woman, it appears his personal coming out journey was a long one. By his own reckoning, he started telling people he was gay years before he officially came out. Yet during that time, he labored at a news outlet that is an hotbed of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
Fox News has a well-deserved reputation for being antagonistic toward LGBTQ issues. Much of that is driven by its star on-screen talent commentators, such as Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity. But even the news division, which Smith was a part of, has hardly been immune to portraying LGBTQ people as a threat. Moreover, Fox News has gladly hosted all kinds of right-wing types eager to bash LGBTQ rights.
To his credit, Smith never participated in the bashing of LGBTQ people on-air. He even took aim at some of the station’s most sacred figures, including Donald Trump.
Still, Smith was a true believer in Fox News. He joined the network at its founding and stuck around for 23 years. When his former boss Roger Ailes died in 2017, Smith called him a “media genius.” Despite Ailes’ “well documented flaws,” as Smith euphemistically called Ailes’ right-wing propaganda, Smith said, “I loved him.”
“Flaws” is an extraordinary kind word to use to describe Ailes’ despicable behavior. Ailes was forced to resign due to multiple accusations of sexual harassment.
Smith has always denied that it was Ailes who forced him to remain in the closet for so long. Before being driven out of business by Peter Thiel, Gawker insisted that Smith wanted to come out in 2013, but Ailes wouldn’t allow it.
Perhaps Smith’s career advice is the inevitable result of his long sting at Fox News. His advice to his fellow gay journalists certainly has a ring of the 1990s about it.
Besides Smith telling the group “I don’t want to be the gay journalist, I want to be the journalist who is gay,” perhaps the most revealing comment Smith made was about being considered the “token gay” in the workplace.
“You know how they stereotype us [gay men],” Smith said. “We’re emotional, we fly off the handle, we have chips on our shoulder.”
Really? Are those common stereotypes of gay men in the workplace? It’s certainly the sexist way women are described. Perhaps at Fox News, the culture lumped gay men and women together in one heap of tokenism.
Smith has done his best to fight that stereotype. It was a losing battle at Fox News, which is no doubt contributed to his abrupt departure. He now hosts a program on CNBC.
But for years, Smith had the opportunity to fight the stereotype more openly as an out gay man — or if you prefer his phrasing, a journalist who happens to be gay — and he chose not to. Instead, he chose to be a major player in Fox News’ poisoning of American politics.
Smith didn’t echo the anti-LGBTQ talking points that were common on the air, but by remaining in the closet, he didn’t rebut them by his presence either.
It’s true that one out gay man can’t change the entire culture. But the question that will always dog Smith is why he willing supported it for so long.