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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Interview: Adam Rogers

Arash Zandi |
December 7, 2013 | 4:21 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Adam Rogers speaking at the USC Sports and LGBT Experience Conference. (facebook.com/usclearcenter)
Adam Rogers speaking at the USC Sports and LGBT Experience Conference. (facebook.com/usclearcenter)
Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Transgender. The mere mention of these four words invoke a variety of emotions by people from all walks of life. To some, it represents progression, and to others, it represents digression from tradition. But to Adam Rogers, it means everything. It is his identity; it is how he expresses himself and it gives him hope for the future. I happened to meet Adam by chance, as we are both in the same class together at USC. I sat down with him for a chat into what he is doing for the LGBT rights movement and Adam’s contributions to the LGBT community.


Neon Tommy: First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I wanted to start off this interview with your own personal story. What got you interested in becoming an activist for LGBT rights? 

Adam Rogers: From the age of 11, I knew that I was gay, but I didn’t come out publicly until I was 18. At that point, I exploded out of the closet and realized that part of my purpose was to help fight for the equal rights of the LGBT community.


How long have you been an LGBT rights activist?

I would say at a hardcore level, for the last 12 years. I started doing activism when I was an undergraduate student at Colorado State University and then came out to Los Angeles to work for GLAAD where I did communication research. Now, I work for the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center where I am able to do academic research on LGBT issues.


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Do you have a preferred area of the LGBT rights movement that you focus on, or do you approach the movement as a whole?

I think it’s important to find your niche within the movement and therefore my three sweet spots are, first off, looking at the intersection of the LGBT rights movement with sports. I just directed the USC Sports and LGBT Experience Conference on campus where we evaluated homophobia in sports and what the future of LGBT representation in professional and collegiate sports will be like. My second sweet spot is looking at the international LGBT rights movement; specifically in Uganda where there is unfortunately anti-LGBT legislation pending that would give lifetime imprisonment and death for LGBT Ugandans. The third sweet spot is that I get to work at the Norman Lear Center and view how LGBT people are depicted in popular culture.


Did you face any difficulties in coming out to the people closest to you? 

I was very lucky. There are a lot of people who have horror stories about being disowned by their family as well as being faced with violence with respect to international communities. My LGBT friends in Uganda have been shunned from their families. Fortunately, growing up in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado, my family and friends are very loving towards my husband and I.


In your opinion, would you say that society as a whole has made progress with regards to LGBT rights?

Yes. In America, we have definitely moved the needle on marriage equality and on discrimination laws and a lot of success has come in such a short amount of time. However, there is definitely still a long way to go. We have a big problem with homeless LGBT youth in this country and not everybody lives in very gay friendly cities so there is a lot of daily discrimination that people are facing that we need to deal with.


Are you involved with any LGBT organizations on campus or elsewhere? If so, what are the ways that you contribute to them?

Predominantly, I’m an academic researcher so the activism side has subsided a little bit. It’s more in my role now to look at the issue from an academic perspective, so I am not affiliated with any organizations.


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Do you think that the LGBT movement is focusing on one part of the LGBT community more than the others?

Yes. There is a big criticism in America that we put too much effort into marriage equality when there are a lot of people for whom marriage is very far from their own personal agenda. They are just trying to survive. There are several states where you can get fired for being gay. We have a lot of transgender issues that need to be at the forefront. My view is that I am okay with the amount of priority that we place on marriage equality because that is something that will raise all other issues to light. Once we achieve that, we will be able to have an easier path on other LGBT discrimination issues.


Do you think that the mainstream media is doing enough to promote LGBT acceptance?

Yes. Because of the work of organizations like GLAAD, the media are doing much better than they have in the past. However, there are still some depictions that leave something to be desired. But overall, America is doing fairly well. In other areas like Africa and the Middle East, we still have a lot of work to do. 

I want to know more about the research that you are doing. Apart from your obvious passion to further the LGBT rights movement, were there any other driving forces behind your choosing to do this research? 

I focused on the research that I did for the USC Sports and LGBT Experience Conference. I recently conducted research on the image of LGBT athletes on television which merged several of my passions together. I recently found 28 instances of athletes being portrayed on television and analyzed them for several indicators of how Hollywood has depicted LGBT athletes and how that compares with what the reality is.


Who would you want, preferably, to collaborate with on your research in order for it to fulfill your vision? 

Actually, with the USC Sports and LGBT Experience Conference that we just held at USC, I was able to collaborate with a lot of my heroes in the intersection of LGBT rights and the sports world. We were able to host Sid Ziegler and Jim Basinski who are the creators of Outsports which has been, for a long time, the best news destination for LGBT athletes. I also collaborated with several prominent openly gay athletes like one of my heroes, the first openly gay NFL player, David Kopay, as well as media professionals who do a great job of bringing LGBT issues in sports to the forefront and we were able to bring them together and collaborate on a great conference.


Have you faced any difficulties so far while doing your research?

No. Because where I am at USC, which is a very progressive university and open to all kinds of research, I definitely haven’t encountered any difficulties of note.

Have there been times where you feel like your efforts are futile and that you won’t have any success? If so, what gets you back on track?

That’s a great question. I think the times where I feel like that are when I’ve been doing research on the plight of LGBT people in Uganda and looking at the situation in the 76 countries where it is illegal to identify as LGBT. When you look at some of these countries using Uganda as an example, Gallup polling shows that 96 percent of people in that country support homosexuality being illegal. That is devastating to hear, especially when I have become close to so many people who are like me and who are living in Uganda and do not feel safe. It does seem futile at times because you look at what can change people’s minds and it’s a hard concept to get around but you keep on trying. What brings me back is looking at the spirit of the people living in these situations who are not feeling safe around their neighbors who keep on fighting and working hard to survive and that makes you want to work hard as well. 

In your opinion, do you foresee a complete acceptance of LGBT rights by society in our lifetime?

That’s a very loaded statement. But I think that we have done a great job of moving the needle on LGBT acceptance in America and that will continue to a point where I do believe that we will see federal marriage equality in our lifetime. However, regarding international efforts in areas hostile to LGBT people, I think that we will make some progress in our lifetime but I don’t know if we will completely get there.

What other achievements by society would you like to see accomplished during your lifetime?

[Laughs] Oh my, that’s a difficult question! I think my focus right now remains with looking at LGBT people and I think that the next frontier should be really focusing on educating people about transgender rights. We have this upcoming ballot initiative that will hit California in 2014 about transgender rights which focuses on a new legislation that was passed that allows transgender students to have equal access to the restrooms of the gender that they identify with. There’s just so little education about transgender issues and that should be the next area of focus that we need to be making a push for because there are a lot of people who are just having a very difficult time due to so much ignorance about transgender issues in this country and abroad. 

A number of prominent organizations, such as Chick-fil-A, Barilla and Urban Outfitters have professed their disagreement toward members of the LGBT community. As a result, do you boycott their products and if so, has this affected your life and how? 

A fantastic question! People have made conscious decisions about where they give their money and that has represented their viewpoints since the beginning of time, but in many ways with the case studies that you exemplified, the message got lost. I personally haven’t eaten in Chick-fil-A in many, many years. Chick-fil-A is a good example of the message getting lost in that people think that LGBT people don’t go to Chick-fil-A because they don’t approve of marriage equality. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

The CEO of Chick-fil-A, Dan Cathy, has donated significant amounts of money to organizations that fight against LGBT equality on the highest levels, including in some of the anti-LGBT countries where there is very dangerous legislation coming down the pipeline that has a direct impact from the funds that have been given to them. It’s difficult for a lot of LGBT people to justify giving their money to an organization where that money will be in turn given to organizations that exist to stand in the way of LGBT equality. It got turned into an issue where people were thinking that it was related to free speech and that was disheartening to me because personally, we weren’t doing anything to impinge on the free speech of Dan Cathy or Chick-fil-A. They are able to donate to whomever they want and are able to have whatever feelings they have, religious or otherwise. With that being said, I have the choice whether I want to eat there or not, just like a lot of people from the other side making their voice heard by making Chick-fil-A more profitable during that entire fiasco. It’s a complicated issue as to whether or not “gaycotts”, if you will, are effective or not.

Right now, there’s a lot of dissent on how to deal with the situation in Sochi, Russia regarding the 2014 Winter Olympics as they recently passed their own anti-LGBT propaganda law which is very dangerous and harmful to LGBT Russians and because the Olympics will be held there, it has received a lot of media coverage. One of the first things that activists in America did was that they started boycotting Russian vodka. A lot of people think that it's a successful way of getting attention to the cause, but a lot of other people think that it’s a useless effort that hurts the wrong people such as those who work for Stoli and other vodka brands that, in some cases, have been very supportive of LGBT equality in the past which doesn’t really do anything to hurt the actual Russian government that passed the law.


To make people change their minds about issues, especially a controversial one like LGBT acceptance, is hard to do these days. Have you experienced any successes and/or any difficulties so far in convincing those against LGBT acceptance to change their minds?

There is a certain segment of the population that will never be okay with the idea of me being married to a man and it’s difficult not to take that personally. With that being said, it is important to focus on the battles that you can win. I think there is a large segment of the population that we haven’t reached and you have to be patient and cognizant as to where those people are coming from. When people were growing up, they heard bad things about the LGBT community and it’s hard to deprogram what we were brought up with. One of the ways that are possible is by trying to be the best person that you can be. I try to lead by example by emphasizing that my love for my husband is the same as a man’s love for his wife. 


History has shown us that one person can really make a difference in the world. Do you think that you are one of those people? Why or why not?

Oh, I think we all should aim to be one of those people. We should all be having the target of living a good life and trying to make our corner of the world as good as possible. Recently, we lost one of the giants in the world in Nelson Mandela and I think that we all should try to follow his example of living for what we know to be right. 


This has been a great interview, Adam. Thank you for your time. 

Thank you for your time as well.


Watch Adam speak at the USC Sports and LGBT Experience Conference here:


Read more of NT’s interviews here.



Reach Staff Reporter Arash Zandi here. Follow him on Twitter here. 



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