Oral Roberts' gay grandson had one tough coming out

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 22, 2011 - 5:26 PM

He has known it in his heart since he was about 5 years old. He even warned his fiancée before they married at age 18. But Randy Roberts Potts didn't admit to his family, and the world, that he was gay until he was 31, just six years ago.

That's largely because the weight of his family name -- Roberts -- made being a gay man untenable. After all, his grandfather, the Rev. Oral Roberts, was one of the pastors who influenced a generation of people to believe that being gay was a sin.

"In my family of evangelical Christians, it was really, really, really bad," Potts said in an interview from his home in Dallas.

So bad that Potts' mother still will not talk to him. So bad that he had to get tickets to his grandfather's funeral through a distant cousin, but was not allowed to sit with the family during the public service.

"During the public event my mother looked right at me as she talked about how gay people were going to hell," said Potts. "A lot of people say that attitude toward gay people is hate, but I don't think it's that simple. It's fear that if you at all embrace a gay person you are aiding Satan. I lived with that fear in my family."

Potts is in Minnesota to speak at several functions about growing up gay in a prominent evangelical family, starting Sunday at All God's Children MMC. Andrew's Round Table has brought Potts here to counter attempts in Minnesota to ban gay marriage.

Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt, whose gay son was killed on duty in Afghanistan this year, are part of the group bringing Potts to Minnesota. They will also speak at the Rosemount Steeple Center on Wednesday.

Potts, a contributor to the "It Gets Better" book and campaign aimed to prevent gay teen suicides, will speak at various events through Wednesday, preaching tolerance and acceptance.

Those are things Potts didn't get much of growing up.

"[Coming out] was a really long process," he said. "I always knew I was attracted to men, but I thought it was wrong. Before I got married, I told [his girlfriend] that I was attracted to men, but that I would fight it. I finally realized 12 years later that I wasn't straight, and there was nothing I could do about it."

Potts told a few friends during that period, but his family had no clue he was gay until a few years ago. How did that go?

"Not well," he said. "I haven't been invited to any family function since. I hope it might get better at some point."

Potts was not the first person in the Roberts family to admit being gay. His uncle, Oral Roberts' oldest son, was gay and committed suicide in his 30s.

"Ronnie and I were a lot alike," said Potts. "We had similar experiences. We were both teachers; both married our friend."

But it was even more difficult for Ronnie because homosexuality was even less understood in the early 1980s.

As Potts has become more outspoken, more young gay men and women have written to him with questions about being gay and Christians. He said young people want to know how they can remain Christians and acknowledge their sexuality. Older people are coming to terms with how their rhetoric has encouraged bigotry and bullying.

"I think a lot of Christians are saying they are not going to stick with the status quo," Potts said. "I do think it's getting better," but each incremental change leads to a stronger push-back.

Interestingly, though he wasn't invited to his grandfather's funeral, Potts did get to visit Oral Roberts at his California home six months before he died. Even though he lived near his grandfather growing up, they were not close. But at their last meeting, something was different. He met Potts' children and gave them presents.

"He knew I was gay, but he didn't bring it up," said Potts. "It was a really warm and friendly meeting. It was the first time I felt embraced by him. He repeated several times that he loved me."

Potts' speaking engagements are open to the public. For times and dates, go to www.andrewsroundtable.com.

jtevlin@startribune.com 612-673-1702

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