Former Fox News Anchor Shepard Smith Opens Up about Being the 'Token Gay'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday September 19, 2021
Originally published on September 16, 2021

Openly gay CNBC news anchor Shepard Smith, in a conversation with CNBC colleague and segment producer Brandon Gomez for this year's NLGJA Association of LGBTQ Journalists, addressed the problem of being the "token gay" at the workplace, CNBC reports.

Smith has been with CNBC since 2020, but for more than two decades before that, he was with Fox News, where, for most of his tenure, he remained in the closet, only coming out publicly in 2017, though he had confided in friends and colleagues prior to that.

Smith said there had been times in his own career when he had been tokenized, and told Gomez that LGBTQ+ employees "have to stand up" and advocate for themselves in a professional and respectful — but crystal-clear — manner.

"I love to cover gay issues, just as I love to cover BLM [Black Lives Matter] issues, I love to cover anything about inclusivity," Smith said. "But if the workplace attitude becomes tokenizing or pigeonholing — as in, 'Oh, there's a gay story. Gay guy, go cover that' — that requires a conversation with your manager."

"Not a confrontational one, not one with emotion," Smith added; "A businesslike conversation. 'I'm excited to cover this story, but I don't want to be the 'gay journalist.' I want to be a journalist who's gay.'"

Such feedback would be best delivered "in person," — not via email — and in a calm, professional manner.

"You know how they stereotype us," Smith said to Gomez. "We're 'emotional,' we 'fly off the handle,' we 'have chips on our shoulders.' None of that's true — it's true for individuals, it's not true for our group."

Smith went on to say that it's important to do things "by the book," which might mean going "all the way to the top of the HR ladder to say, 'I'm not here to be your token.'"

The thing to point out, he added, is, "That I happen to be brown or gay or anything else is a bonus for you, but I'm here to do the job on the job description. I'm not here to be your EOE point."

CNBC reported that "toxic workplace cultures" are a primary driver in employees deciding to find jobs elsewhere. "Knowing whether your conversation will actually fix the problem can be the real challenge," the article noted.

"I've found that most people who are outside of our community want to do it right" Smith added. "We should give that help."

[Full disclosure: This correspondent is a member of the NLGJA.]

Watch the CNBC clip below.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.