Jane Velez-Mitchell: The Atlanta Interview
“We have to get to the point where we
regard homophobia the same as racism.“
Jane Velez-Mitchell has Issues… and likes to talk about them! The HLN journalist, bestselling author and host of ‘ISSUES with Jane Velez-Mitchell‘ comes to Atlanta this Wednesday, December 14th to moderate ‘CNN Dialogues Presents: LGBT.’
We caught up with Velez-Mitchell, one of the few openly-gay journalists on television, to talk about everything from replacing Soledad O’Brien [see our prior Soledad O'Brien interview], to addiction and coming out, to Casey Anthony and Michael Jackson…
Do you think it helps to have an openly-gay moderator for this event?
Yes. Soledad’s fantastic, but I think I bring a little something extra to the table because I’m an out lesbian. I’ve been there and done that, you know what I mean?
How hard was it for you to come out of the closet?
I will never point the finger at anyone for being in the closet, because I was in the closet for decades. In my book ‘i Want,’ I talk about how I tried very hard to be heterosexual. I was married to a man and gave it everything I could. I didn’t have a path that I could see, even subconsciously.
I tried very hard to be heterosexual.”
People I consider my heroes like Ellen DeGeneres and others showed me how you can do it. I was able to first acknowledge to myself that I was gay, then to friends, then to family, then I came out on the radio.
Then I was in a parade – both literally and figuratively! I rode in the West Hollywood Pride Parade in 2010.
What are some of the issues you’ll bring up at CNN Dialogues?
We’re going to talk about gay marriage, teen bullying, relationships within the LGBT community, transsexuals, lesbians, bisexuals, how to lead an authentic life, etc. There are a lot of questions to address!
But the main question is has increasing openness in the LGBT community led to more acceptance, or is it the other way around? I think it’s both.
What do you hope the audience takes away from CNN Dialogues?
The most important thing is for them to get a sense of what it’s like to be gay. I hope they walk away knowing that they have more options.
Maybe they’re gay and feel like they can’t come out at work. If they’re straight, I hope they learn that the gay community needs straight allies.
[Editor's Note: In addition to a local Atlanta audience, CNN Dialogues will be televised.]
Are you worried about moderating Johnny Weir?
No – I can handle him! It can be controversial – let’s make some news! I don’t think we have to be scared of conversation.
is fabulous. Look at what
she’s done for the transgender community.”
You often fill in for Nancy Grace on her show.
Nancy is fabulous. Look at what she’s done for the transgender community by embracing Chaz Bono and standing up for him on camera.
I sent Nancy an email and said, ‘Thank you. Coming from you that means a lot.’ She’s a champion for anyone who’s been treated unfairly.
What are your thoughts on PETA protesting the Georgia Aquarium after their Pride party this year?
I think it’s important that the LGBT community stands up for persecuted minorities. The most important minority are animals, because they have no voice. They cannot speak.
I believe the LGBT community should be
at the forefront of the compassion movement.”
People may go, ‘Oh there’s nothing wrong, they’re just swimming around.’ But they don’t know the back story.
I believe the LGBT community should be at the forefront of the compassion movement.
Which trial was more difficult for you to cover – Casey Anthony or Michael Jackson?
Wow – they were difficult in different ways. Casey Anthony was just fascinating, but it was an entirely different group of people. I was out there with the people who were massing outside the courthouse.
There were mothers who had children the same age. They were angry as mothers. There was a whole group of people who had very strong feelings – as they should – about the horrific treatment of an innocent, helpless, voiceless child who was relying on adults her whole life to survive, and look what happened to her.
I may have yelled at, ‘You’re beautiful!’
But I was just reporting the facts!”
It was totally different scene with Michael Jackson’s fans. I was talking to people from all over the world – Sweden and Spain and Germany.
These fans think of him as more than just a musician. They think of him as an ambassador for peace; almost a demigod.
It was a very serious case, but I enjoyed being out with the fans every day.
Once I might have gotten a little excited and yelled at Janet Jackson, ‘You’re beautiful!’ I may have gotten a little carried away… but I was just reporting the facts!
During the Casey Anthony trial, you followed the lawyers to lunch. Where do you draw the line for privacy during a trial?
OK here’s what happened. I was interviewing someone, and all of a sudden there was a commotion of people. We just started running after them.
Here’s the thing, there is a private way for the lawyers to go to lunch without having to confront the cameras. They knew it, we knew it, everyone there knew it.
They would go out every day past the cameras, then complain! They could have taken other ways. It’s just theater.
It’s ridiculous that we’re fighting this war on drugs,
when the big problem is prescription pills.”
Was there anything during these two trial you think the media could have covered better?
With Michael Jackson, I think HLN did a good job of covering addiction. We live in an addictogenic culture, where we’re encouraged to get hooked on a variety of different things.
I talk about this in my book, ‘iWant.’ I’m a recovering alcoholic, so I know what it’s like.
More people are getting addicted to prescription pills than illegal drugs. The Michael Jackson trial encouraged us to look at who is prescribing these drugs.
HLN covered it a lot because we have Dr. Drew. It’s ridiculous that we’re fighting this war on drugs, when the big problem is prescription pills.
When many problems can be cured naturally or with alternative medicine.
Right. Or with therapy, which hardly anyone does.
Do you think Michael Jackson was a drug addict?
Michael Jackson was a great artist, but I think he was also an addict. He had a dependency. I got into Twitter disputes, because the Jackson family didn’t want him described that way.
He was taking huge amounts of Demerol, and couldn’t sleep without Propofol. He had 15 different aliases.
I’m not a doctor and I didn’t know him myself, but as a recovering addict, that’s what I saw.
With all of the murder trials and stories you cover, how do you keep smiling?
It is depressing to cover a lot of these stories. I try to point out the redeeming aspects. There is a pattern to these killings that we see on the news.
So many women stay in dangerous situations.
They don’t realize what these men are capable of.”
Interrelationship violence is a big problem. If something is going south, don’t sit there and wait for something else bad to happen.
So many women stay in dangerous situations. They don’t realize what these men are capable of.
We’re seeing this right now on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Yes. I’ve done a lot of stories on that. When you allow cameras into your life for a reality show, it’s very hard to create boundaries.
It’s hard to say, ‘You can show this aspect of my life, but not this part.’ It’s very dangerous.
Reality TV is going to show painful parts of your life. That’s the deal when you sign up for a reality show. It’s something you’ve got to consider.
You’ve covered a lot of stories on bullying. Is there anything that can legally be done to stop bullying?
There are some laws being proposed in Congress right now. Many parents complain that they’ve gone to the schools and complained, and nothing was done.
There needs to be something universal across the board, so it’s not up to every little principal to come up with rules on the fly. It needs to be treated far more seriously.
Kids are getting hate, and often it’s from adults.”
Sometimes it’s a life or death matter like we saw with Tyler Clemente who committed suicide. The principals need to have some muscle to say, ‘This has to stop now or you’re going to juvenile court.’
We have to get to the point where we treat homophobia the same as racism. Kids are getting hate and often it’s from adults.
The funeral for Jorelys Rivera was held yesterday, the little girl who was raped and murdered then found dead in a trashcan in Georgia. Do you believe in the death penalty?
Personally I would like to not believe in the death penalty, but every so often a horror, horror, horror comes along – a crime so terrible and unimaginable that you have to wonder. I go back and forth on it, I really do.
The problem is, you can’t take credit
for a crime that never happens.”
Instead of the death penalty, I wish we could focus on how to intervene early. That’s what I talk about in ‘Addict Nation‘.
The problem is, you can’t take credit for preventing a crime that never happens. But we need to focus on preventing these crimes in the first place.
What do you think is the biggest addiction in America today?
What about for the gay community?
I don’t like to take the gay community and separate them out. People are people, for the most part. I always become a little concerned when we do these studies.
I know a lot of straight people who are drug and alcohol addicts, and I know a lot of gay people who are in recovery.
You also wrote ‘Secrets Can Be Murder‘ with Nancy Grace. How dangerous is staying in the closet?
There are a lot of dangers. I lived in the closet for many years. I was closeted to myself and others. Someone once described it to me as ‘walking around in a vertical casket.’ That’s exactly what it’s like.
Being in the closet is like
walking around in a vertical casket.”
If you can’t be who you are at your core, then you’re a big phony. I was trying to be something that I wasn’t.
I’m not pointing fingers, because I came out very late in life. Other people have come out much younger.
When did you come out?
I got sober 16 years ago, and was living with a man at the time. Whenever I became uncomfortable with my feelings, I would drink.
After I got sober, I couldn’t ignore my feelings anymore. I met my partner in 2003, so about 10 years ago I acknowledged it privately. After that, it was a gradual process of coming out.
I came out around the time the Larry Craig scandal occurred. I was on a show with an outwardly gay co-host. We were talking about Larry Craig and what a hypocrite he was, and I started to feel really bad.
I called my girlfriend and said ‘turn on the TV.’
After the commercial break, I came out.”
So during the commercial break, I said to the cohost, ‘There’s something I’ve got to say. I’m gay and living with a woman right now, and I have to share it with the audience.’
I called my girlfriend and said, ‘turn on the TV.’ And after the commercial break, I came out.
What was the reaction from the public?
Here’s the thing, nothing changed. No one cared!
You’re one of the few openly-gay journalists on TV. Do you believe other gay anchors should come out publicly?
40% of LGBT employees are not out at work. We’re going to talk about this on Wednesday. It’s kind of disturbing. I think most of the fear is self-generated. But I can only speak from my own experience.
40% of LGBT employees are not out at work.
We’re going to talk about this on Wednesday.”
Do privately gay journalists have a responsibility to come out to viewers?
One of the things I’ve learned from my 12 steps is not to take on other people’s inventory. I just want to keep my side of the street clean.
I’m not going to sit here and castigate anyone, but my experience has been wonderful. I haven’t experienced anything negative by coming out – I would tell you if I had!
- Jane Velez-Mitchell moderates CNN Dialogues Presents: LGBT on Wednesday, December 14th at the Grady High School Theater (929 Charles Allen Drive, Atlanta) from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 for the public, $15 for students with valid ID.
* Photo of Jane Velez-Mitchell: Toky Photography
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