OUT ON THE TOWN: Pride extends beyond this month
when gay Houstonians help their fellow Texans. Page 20.
PARENTING: Houston activist Sue Lovell shares her
story on the road of gay parenthood. Page 21
Out on the Bayou
JUNE 27, 2003
Black lesbian isn't 'America's Next Top Model,' but she's still out and proud
By FAREN D'ABEU
EBONY HAITH PROBABLY IS NOT
the first black lesbian model, but she
may be the first to come out on
Haith, one of the 10 finalists on UPN's
reality show "America's Next Top Model,"
says executive producer and supermodel
Tyra Banks brought together a diverse
group of contestants to compete for a modeling contract and other high-value prizes.
Since a "top model" has to be more than
just a pretty face, they learn something new
each week. One week, gay consultant J.
Alexander — a thick black man in a dress
and heels — teaches the girl*; how to walk
down a runway Another week, they take
acting classes with Alice Spivak who helped
Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer.
After their lessons, the models are judged
on how well they applied their lessons. A
panel of celebrity model judges eliminates
one model each week. Imagine "The Waltons"
meet "The Jeffersons" meet "Survivor"
Robin Manning — a plus-sized model
whose personal motto is "I can do all things
through Jesus Christ who strengthens me"—
became the mother figure to the group as
they were narrowed from 20 women to 10. But
that mother quickly became disapproving of
several women in the house, Haith says.
Elyse Sewell, the Wynona Ryder look-
alike, is an atheist, and Haith is a lesbian,
so neither participates in the bible study
classes held by Manning.
Haith says she was
not going to let
I Manning bring nega-
11^^ into the house.
"The first thing I
told her was 'I was
born 7-7-78, honey I'm
all lucky. Sevens are
the gates to heaven, now you look at me and
tell me I'm not a child of God,'" Haith says.
"After that, I didn't hear a word from her."
FROM THE BEGINNING, HAITH SAYS
she was there to win. She was not in the
house to make friends.
The first argument occurred when the
girls arrived at the house and were treated
with new clothes of different sizes. Haith says
the logical way to divide the clothes would be
to see what looks best on each model.
But mother Manning prevailed, causing a
clothing raffle of sorts to determine which
mcda received which CHitfit—regarrUessofsize.
In an early episode, Haith lost a competition to win a night partying with recording
artist Wydef Jean. When "Tyra Mail" —
little notes from Banks telling the contestants what to expect the next day — came
while the four winners were out partying,
Haith wanted to hide the mail from them.
But, there's more to every story, she says.
"It's an eight-hour show. We were
together for over a month," she says. "A
lot of the times, my interactions with the
girls were things that were built up. If I
got frustrated at them, these are things
that we went through in and out all day"
The almost 25-year-old model from the
Bronx says she's not as mean as TV viewers might think.
"Why was I portrayed this way?" Haith
asks. "Sometimes African American women
— especially in my style — have a tendency
to be portrayed [asj angry or very forceful."
HAITH IS NOT THE TYPICAL SUPER-
model. Her current style is bald and a bit
rough around the edges. Even people who
know her well may not always recognize her
because her style, which has included blonde
hair, is constantly changing, she says.
Tm naturally a clown," Haith says. "I'm
really a giriy girl as welL If I'm going through
something, you're going to know it."
Her big clown smile was seen naturally when she invited her girlfriend, Ka, to
visit the house. "The girls came in to meet
my girlfriend, and their whole attitude
[changed]," Haith says. "They all came
and introduced themselves — Robin too.
... I knew that they were going to be
acceptable toward it and understand that
this wasn't something that was a joke."
Haith was an out lesbian from the beginning of her involvement with the show, but
none of the other contestants knew.
"Tyra already knew," Haith says.
"After we were narrowed down to the 10,
that was the first thing she said to me, 'we
all know you're a lesbian.'"
Haith told Banks that because there
are so many gays in all aspects of fashion,
she didn't believe that being gay would
hinder her career.
And besides Manning's protestations,
if the other on-camera guests and celebrity judges are any indication, she's right.
In one episode, the flamboyant runway
expert J. Alexander refers to his husband,
the doctor, when one of the model-hopefuls
reveals that she'll attend medical school if
she does not win the competition.
Manning's anti-gay sentiments were disrespectful to the large numbers of gays who
support models and actresses, Haith says.
"I was a little shocked," she says.
"Thinking to myself, 'You're not only
making these comments toward me,
you're making these comments to the per-
son who made you look fabulous yester-
day, the one that made that outfit that you
wore look amazing, the one who held your
hand when you were crying.'"
DURING AND AFTER JUNE — TYPI-
cally known as Gay Pride month — Haith
says gays should be out and proud in all
aspects of their lives.
She does not fear that being out will
hurt her modeling career. In fact, she
wants to be a director and an actress as
well, and fears that may be more difficult.
"I think that people are always going to be
in fear of what other people say," she says.
In fhe future, Haith says she hopes
attitudes will change.
"We have newscasters who are 60 years
old, 70, 80, who are coming out saying
they're gay now," she says. "We have priests
who are now finally getting accepted into
churches. This is something that, in the
next ten years, it really is yesterday's news."
After a month of nationally televised
grueling work — including sub-zero outdoor shoots, criticisms about dry skin, and
being called a sinner, Haith is still smiling.
"I think I'm one of the most happy financially unstable people there is," she says.
And she says if she learned one thing
from participating on "America's Next
Top Model," it's that she exists.
"I am present," Haith says. "I have always
felt that as an African American woman
especially — a woman, period — that I have
had to do extra to say I'm here. ... I was
helped to realize, by watching this show, that
I was present from the beginning."
Haith was eliminated on the June 10
episode. The show's season finale airs July 8.
'America's Next Top Model'
Tuesdays, 9 p.m. • UPN