Late televangelist also had son who committed suicide after coming out, but Dallas man takes different path
DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer [email protected]
Randy Roberts Potts grew up like many in this area. Raised in an evangelical family, he married at 20 and had three children.
But at 30, he came out as gay and moved to Dallas.
Today, few in his family speak to him. But last year he summoned the courage to take his children to visit his grandfather — Tulsa evangelist Oral Roberts.
Roberts, who died last year, had four children: Potts’ mother, a Tulsa attorney; her sister, who died in a plane crash with her husband in 1977; Ronnie Roberts, who committed suicide in 1982; and Richard Roberts, who became president of Oral Roberts University in 1993 but resigned in 2007 after being accused of using school funds for personal and political purposes.
Potts identifies most closely with his deceased uncle, Ronnie. They look alike. They were both teachers. They married, had children and divorced at about the same age.
“We married very similar women, too,” Potts said.
They were also about the same age when they came out. But there is a major difference between the two.
Ronnie came out as gay to the Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, in the early 1980s. Six months later, Ronnie Roberts committed suicide.
Potts, on the other hand, learned to embrace his identity.
Potts said he believes people need to take responsibility for their own lives. If their families aren’t supportive, they need to surround themselves with people who are. That is what made the difference for him.
But the times were different as well, for Potts and his uncle.
“By the time I was in my late 20s, we had ‘Will & Grace,’” Potts said. “In 1982 in Tulsa, there were no role models.”
Although it was pretty common knowledge in the LGBT community that Oral Roberts had a gay son, in the family and at church it was a big secret. Potts said he didn’t know himself until fairly recently.
“In the gay community people knew that,” he said. “In my family it was utter heresy that I mentioned it.”
He said the “the act of saying it publicly” has estranged most of his family from him.
Since he came out, Potts said only two people in his family even talk to him — his brother and a distant cousin.
Potts met his wife at age 18. They married two years later and had three children.
Ten years after they married, he and his wife divorced. When she got a new job in Dallas, he moved here to be near his children. They have joint custody.
His estrangement from his family began much earlier.
He compared his mother to Sarah Palin.
“She reminds me a lot of my mother,” he said of Palin. “I hear my mother in her, the same sort of mindset.”
Potts said his relationship with his mother reflected her relationship with her father.
Last year, he decided to take his children to meet their great-grandfather, a man he described as very cold.
“I was terrified of him as a kid,” Potts said.
He recalled that as he was growing up, his grandfather never remembered his name or the names of any of Potts’ cousins.
But he was surprised during this last visit.
“He wanted to be the grandfatherly type in that visit,” Potts said. “It was nice that he was play-acting for my kids.”
When he arrived, he was surprised that Roberts had learned the names of each his great-grandchildren, and he gave each of the children a $20 bill and an autographed copy of one of his books.
“That’s his legacy, his life’s work,” Potts said, saying he thinks his grandfather believed the book would mean something to his great-grandchildren when they were older.
Despite Roberts’ attitude toward his great-grandchildren, Potts said he knows it must have been difficult for the evangelist to see Potts himself. “I know I must have reminded him of Ronnie,” he said. “I was the same age as Ronnie when he died. I know that ran through his head several times when he looked at me.
“He was very isolated and alone,” he said. “He was always too busy for friends. So here he is 91. He lost his wife in 2005.”
Potts’ grandmother was his closest relative. He described her as kind and loving. She died the year he came out.
For her funeral, he was not allowed in the family tent. Instead, he stood outside to hold one of the tent poles.
When his grandfather died last December at the age of 91, Potts decided to attend the funeral. but he was not invited to sit with the family.
But Potts lives a happy life in Dallas. He works several jobs to make ends meet. He’s doing some writing on several subjects. He said he’s heard little from his family about a recent an article published by This Land, an Oklahoma periodical, about his family.
He has an agent and hopes to publish a book out about the same subject.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 9, 2010.