Portrait of an Evangelical Emperor’s Gay Grandson
Until Randy Roberts Potts came out, he lived under an exclusive banner of evangelical royalty. His grandfather was Oral Roberts, founder of Oral Roberts University and the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association, a holy empire that was worth more than half-a-billion-dollars. Oral would go on to achieve even more worldwide notoriety after he claimed that God “would take him home” unless his followers raised $8 million in cash.
Potts also had an uncle—heir to the Oral Roberts throne—who committed suicide six months after he came out to Troy Perry, founder of the first gay-friendly congregation in Los Angeles.
“Growing up, I didn’t know my uncle was gay, but I always wanted to be like him,” Potts said. “I feel like my life has mirrored his. Every time my mother mentioned him I noted two things: one, that she had loved him more than she had ever loved anybody else; and two, that the memory of his [gay] path brought more pain to her than any other memory.”
Potts surmises that on some level he and his parents always knew he was gay, and his mother was scared he would turn out the same way. "When I was 7, my mother explained that gay meant when two men have sex with one another, and that God hates that so much he burned up entire cities because of it," Potts recalls. "It was difficult to let go of some of those fears that had been so ingrained in me.”
At age 18, Potts met a woman at the University of Oklahoma. Two years later, they married. “I made it clear to my wife when we started dating that I was attracted to men, but I also made it clear that I loved her,” he said. “We were best friends.”
The couple eventually had kids, but even that couldn't heal the relationship. They argued often and went into counseling, but during that time Potts started identifying as gay, which only increased the tension. He says, “There was no one particular day that I ‘came out’ to her. It was part of an ongoing, 13-year conversation.” He also adds that this was a very slow process. “It took a lot of years of therapy and learning to be OK with myself on a lot of levels, not just sexually.”
Eventually they separated, and now ten years later and 37-years-old, Randy is taking some bold steps toward making the world a better place so that others don't go through the kind of emotional suffering he endured. He's traveling the country “trying to counteract the legacy of his televangelist grandfather,” as a spokesman for LGBT rights and the It Gets Better video campaign.
“I cried while watching the original IGB videos,” he remembers. “I kept thinking that I wished those videos had been around when I was in high school, or when my uncle was in high school. Eventually, I felt like I should make one dedicated to my uncle." And so he did.
“I read out loud a personal diary note I had written to him when I came out then put the video of it up on YouTube," Potts says. "I had never spoken publicly before, and I had several panic attacks, but I’m glad I did it as it has given a few young gay kids hope that things will be OK.”
Although Potts never imagined he would work as a spokesman for gay rights, that's where his journey has taken him. “I am a man who loves men, and I am proud to wear that uniform and fight for things like gay marriage, but I also look forward to the day when I can take that uniform off and just be me, a human being not defined by sexuality or religion or place or residence. I would like for there to be a day when all kids grow up in a world in which they will not be judged negatively based on who they fall in love with. This day is coming, faster than anybody ever expected it, and I’m happy to be a part of that evolution.”
Watch Randy's It Gets Better video, a letter to his departed gay uncle, then visit his website.