Kevin Rogers, a resident of White House, Tenn., posted a Facebook note after Tracy Morgan’s performance at Ryman Auditorium June 3, criticizing the comedian’s homophobic remarks and urging others to withdraw their support of the entertainer.
During his performance, Morgan said that "if his son was gay he better come home and talk to him like a man … or he would pull out a knife and stab" him.
Rogers’ commentary caught the attention of Truth Wins Out, a non-profit organization that defends the GLBT community through media advocacy. On Friday, Rogers performed an interview with CNN to detail his experience, and the national coverage inspired a written statement from Morgan apologizing for his remarks.
Rogers, owner of KLR Photography, now speaks with Out & About Newspaper about the ensuing media crush, his recent brushes with celebrity, and how he came out to his mother just minutes before the CNN broadcast.
Could you have ever imagined the media attention you received just from this Facebook note?
When we left the Ryman, we lightly spoke as we walked across the parking lot because we didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves. At the time I had about 1600 Facebook friends and I knew I was going to go home and write a note. That was as far as I ever thought it would go. After I posted the note later that night, I thought that maybe if one person would spread it like wildfire, it would be Perez Hilton. I sent the information to him and his people responded back to say thanks for letting them know and they would look into it, but they never really did anything about it. Truth Wins Out issued a press release and told me, "Here’s what we’re gonna do and we’re gonna run with this." I never heard from the HRC. Perez Hilton never posted anything about it until Friday afternoon when I’d already been on CNN. Truth Wins Out executive Wayne Besen is associated with CNN, so he had me go on live. It went crazy from there. It was quite the experience because the call came out that I had to be live on CNN in an hour.
The hidden aspect of this whole story is the fact that you had to come out to your mother during this process.
Yeah, everything was so crazy that morning and we spent so much time to get priorities together, from shaving to deciding what I’m gonna wear, taking a shower and brushing my teeth. I called my partner (Patrick): he was at work and I told him I was gonna be on CNN. I thought it was the right thing to do and that it was important in the conversation. Then I thought, "Oh, shit, I have to call my mom," because somebody is going to contact her this afternoon and ask, "Is he gay?" The last thing I did before I left the house was I called and she answered the phone. I asked her what she was doing and she was washing dishes. I told her that I needed her to stop what she was doing and that it was a lot of stuff to take in, but to take a deep breath and I promised there was nothing wrong. All of these years I’ve wanted to do this and the exact one thing I didn’t want to do was do it on the phone. Finally amidst the tears, she said, "Say whatever you’ve gotta say. Is this about you and Patrick?" And I said, "Yes." She said, "We know."
How’s the response been in the last few days since you came out?
Everybody keeps talking to me about the fear. It wasn’t so much fear; I just didn’t want to hurt my parents. I didn’t want them to have to live their lives with a gay son and deal with their friends. But my mom said in the process that it was OK and that she believed that everybody has the choice to live how they choose to live and it’s none of their business. I live in White House and they live in Columbia; my mom’s not a "drive in Nashville" type. She said to me: "If I could come up there and hold your hand, I would." Throughout the course of the day (Friday) she called to check me. The next couple days she gave me a little space but she’d call in periodically…She doesn’t have a Facebook account, but I told her that she has this huge fanbase on Facebook. All these people just love her. She had no concept of what happens to some kids. She thought that all parents love their kids because that’s what they’re supposed to do. There are a lot of people that have that (from their parents), but there’s a large population of folks that don’t.
Have you experienced in hateful messages online or in public since your appearance?
I’ve had nothing in public occur as of yet. I’ve noticed in the past several days that it appears when I’m in pretty large groups of people, people look at me like: "I don’t know why I know that guy but I do."
It’s easy to type something and not say it to their face. I’d say it’s been 99.8% love and support; the other messages have been very, very minimal. Most of them have been insanely ignorant.
How have these messages come to you?
They’ve been sending me direct messages on Facebook. Facebook has blocked me from being able to add friends and respond to messages from people I’m not friends with. I’m trying to get them to rethink that issue.
Yesterday I decided to cut and paste them and put them on my wall. These are the things that we endure when we strive to be treated like other people.
I have a client I saw yesterday who has a certain system of beliefs. She’s a Scientologist and she believes that you’ve got to have a mental disorder. The funny thing about it is she didn’t realize I was gay. She said, "I don’t like gay people, but I would never say this to a gay person though." I had some work to do for her, and I did it because I needed the money. When she came back in, I told her that I was gay. I said that you can settle up your bill and leave if you want. If you can accept it and be tolerant and see this is just a small portion of what I’m about, great. I just don’t want to hear about your feelings about me being gay. I said that some people think that gays are freaks and some think Scientologists are freaks. She told me, "I get a lot of shit about being a Scientologist." So I think she started to understand. I just want people to get along. Everybody has their differences but you should try to understand and get along with people.
How do you feel this experience will impact your photography business?
I’ve been accused of trying to score more business by doing this. But I’m a photographer. I’m shooting photos of weddings and kids in the buckle of the Bible Belt. It was hard enough before, but now everybody in the United States knows I’m gay.
I’m pretty afraid that it will (have a negative impact). I’m not gonna worry about it. Everything will work out and it will be fine. I just continue to believe that. There might be a huge reduction in my business and it might hurt my business, but in exchange something else good will happen for it.
Have you heard from any celebrities since your CNN appearance?
I heard from Wanda Sykes on Twitter and she said, "Thanks for your support and having our back." The only person I really heard from was Chely Wright. Her friends were at the show and they were involved in the Advocate interview. I got to meet Kristen Chenoweth. Her manager hooked us up with passes and when I met her, she said she appreciated what I did. I told her she was the one woman that I’d like to marry and that Patrick probably wouldn’t mind. (laughs) The producer of The Color Purple sent me a message and got us tickets to the (Nashville) show next week.
How’s he handling this whole experience?
He’s been very excited about everything that’s been going on, but it’s taken a lot from him. We’ve had take a step back the last several days in our together time. He realizes I have a lot of stuff going on. I’m not ignoring him; it’s just so much stuff.
Do you believe Tracy’s apology was sincere?
I understand that in wording the apology, it was just a press release. I know the wording and thought that has to go into that. I took the apology at face value. I had hoped that Tracy would show that he truly meant the apology. Now he’s really throwing himself out there and saying that he’s wrong for what he said. I liked to think that he was sincere about that. He’s certainly showing that he’s making effort. If Tracy wants to be an ally in our community, I will shake his hand and accept his apology.
How about the public statements made by those who’ve worked with Tracy?
They’ve made it very clear that that’s not the person they know. At least they say that’s not been their experience with Tracy. It shows to me to some degree that he’s genuine. That helps me in the process, to know that it was just a huge error of judgment. They had no need with the rest of their statements to protect him, and they did condemn him for what he said. I don’t hold any ill will towards him. If for the rest of his career, he’s going to have nothing with love and compassion for our community, I accept that.
Do you believe what he said on stage was how he really feels?
After a lot of input from other people, I really think that it’s kind of hard to think that it is. At the Ryman that night, regardless of popular belief, it wasn’t a packed house. There were a lot of empty seats and the largest majority of the crowd was white. I really think that he was trying to be funny and there was an element of humor that he was trying to go for. For whatever reason, that didn’t come across. I like to think that he made a big mistake in judgment. From my understanding, he’s never done this anywhere else
I’ve never been as uncomfortable in my life as that moment. There was a great deal of applause and cheers, and that just made me more and more uncomfortable. I felt there was a sign over my head and my partner’s head. I felt so completely out of place. It’s hard to judge the level of support in that moment.
Would you like to continue this quest and possibly get involved in some advocacy work?
I would like to. That was part of the idea with going ahead and speaking with the media. I wanted to be brave enough to throw myself out there. I’ve always been one of those people that think they can make a difference. This is the one time that’s proven to me that I can make a difference. If that caused someone to re-think their position and think "Maybe I can be strong and maybe I can stand up and be heard," it’s worth it.