Rachel Maddow on Being Outed by Her College Newspaper

Rachel Maddow. Bill Phelps / Corbis Outline

I was a college freshman, and I had just figured out that I was gay. I was heady with the self-importance of a 17-year-old who knows everything and is smarter than everybody—a trait that is great at the moment and really hard to live with in retrospect. I decided I was going to come out of the closet in a very confrontational way. I went to Stanford University, and there was nobody else “out” in my freshman class of more than 1,000 people—which I thought was kind of crazy. So a friend who was coming out at the same time and I did an interview with the student newspaper about being the only two gay freshmen on campus. The mistake I made was that I had not come out to my parents. I told the paper, “I will do this on the condition that you will not run the piece until after this weekend, because I will go home this weekend to tell my parents, and I want them to hear it from me instead of reading it in the paper.” And they ran it before the weekend, and indeed some anonymous person helpfully clipped the article and mailed it to my parents—and that’s how my parents found out that I was gay.

They would have had a hard time with me coming out anyway, but this was a particularly nasty way for them to find out. They’re wonderful now, and couldn’t be more supportive, but they took it poorly at first, which I don’t fault them for. They were shocked and upset and hurt. First of all, they were having to deal with the fact that I’m gay. Second of all, they were having to deal with the fact that I’m gay in the newspaper. And third of all, they were having to deal with the fact that they’ve raised some sort of horrific, callous rug rat who would tell the student paper before telling her family.

It took a while for them to get over it. My family’s very, very Catholic, so that was part of the initial upset. But I actually think that having a really strong faith is part of the reason they got over it—despite Catholic teaching being very antigay. Having a faith tradition was helpful for them and gave them the strength to get over this difficult thing.

I learned that making myself dependent on somebody else’s competence and honor was a failure on my part—and that something that was important I could take care of myself. More than 20 years later, I look back and I feel emotional about it. I feel acutely angry at myself for having put myself in that position.


Tells her college paper she’s gay before she tells her parents.


Hosts the morning talk radio show Unfiltered on Air America.


Headlines the instantly successful Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.


Receives GLAAD Award for outstanding TV journalism.


Releases new book titled Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power.

Interview By Lloyd Grove

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