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James Randi is the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). Randi began his career as a magician, but when he retired at age 60, he switched to investigating[…]

As a teenager in the ’40s, James Randi “would have gotten stoned” for being gay. But when he outed himself to the world in 2010, the reaction was “wonderful.”

Question: Why did you decide to come out publicly at age 81?

James Randi: Oh, well.  I did it, first of all, my next book is to be called, this is a plug, "A Magician in the Laboratory."  And I’m working on that currently right now and it’s more or less autobiographical because so much of my life is spent running around the world and sitting around in laboratories and watching, in many cases, watching scientists make total fools of themselves. But I forgive them for that, they’re just not informed.  I tried to inform them and such.  And I thought, "Well hey, before I publish the book, I should really come out and say to people, yes, I’m gay.  I’ve been gay all of my life."  I don’t have any problem with that whatsoever.  The point that I came out so late in my life is only due to the fact that I never got around to it.  All my friends and family have always known.  All of my office people and such have always known about this.  And I’ve never made any refusal to discuss it, and if anyone has every asked, I said quite frankly, “Yes, that’s the situation.”  And for 25 years now, I’ve had a faithful companion and we get along just fine.  We’re very attached to one another, I’m very happy in that relationship and it doesn’t enter into my work at all though.

How has the public reaction been?

James Randi: Oh, the public reaction has been wonderful.  I anticipated that it would be, frankly, but it’s been much more, much better than I even dreamed it could be.  I’m still getting emails months after this happened.  I’m still getting email from people who say, "Oh I just found out about so and so, and bang on, that’s the way to go."  And these a people who can or cannot be gay one way or another, it doesn’t make any difference.  They all accept it.  And a couple of sour grapes out there, but I could ignore them safely.  But a very, very small minority.  People have understood and we are in an enlightened age. 

Now, when I was a teenager, oh, that would have been the last thing I could have possibly have done.  I would have gotten stoned, I would have gotten beaten up every day, I’m sure, by the kids at school.  But not anymore.  That day, I hope, is passed.

Will coming out be easier for the next generation?

James Randi: Yes.  And not only that, in that respect as a matter of fact.  I’ve found one thing that I did not anticipate.  I’m getting a lot of correspondence from young gay people who say that I’ve served as an example of how it can be done and they’ve determined that they’re going to do it too.  And that’s very encouraging.  I think that relieves them of a bit of a burden, you feel somewhat freed up. 

Now, I didn’t notice the difference at all because I’ve been out all of my life if anyone asked.  That’s all there is to it.  And nobody ever... well some people did ask, or sort of hinted at it.  And I would come out with it right away.  I had no problem with that.  I still have no problem with it whatsoever.  Here I am.  And people often will say, “But you named your car Sophia, after Sophia Loren.”  A little blue Miata, a beautiful little jobbie.  And they said, “Well, you keep on talking about Sophia Loren.”  And I say, “Yes.  You see, I’m gay, but I’m not blind."  After all, you know, that is not Oil of Olay that Sophia uses.  That’s got to be witchcraft.

Recorded April 16, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen