Rosie O'Donnell doesn't care whether the world knows that she's gay. But she does want everyone to know that she is a gay mother.
"I don't think America knows what a gay parent looks like: I am the gay parent," the entertainer tells ABCNEWS' Diane Sawyer in her first in-depth interview about her sexuality.
O'Donnell has three adopted children — Parker, 6, Chelsea, 4, and Blake, 2. — and says she is in "a committed, long-term life relationship" with her partner of about four years, Kelli Carpenter. She talked about her experiences as a gay parent publicly for the first time with Sawyer, hoping to bring attention to the issue of gay adoption and a Florida law that prevents gay couples from adopting.
‘I Totally Think I’m Gay’
There's no earth-shattering coming-out story, O'Donnell says, just a realization that dawned on her in a private moment.
"When all my friends in high school, my girlfriends, were going out to bars and picking up men and fooling around on the beach," she says, "I would get Diet Coke and I was the designated driver. So it was never like a priority for me. I never thought about it."
When she was 18, she thought about it. "I remember driving my car when I got my permit," she says. "I was alone and I was like, 'I totally think I'm gay.' Like I says it out loud in the car."
She first fell in love with a woman a couple of years later; but she also had male lovers.
"It took me a while to understand and to figure out all that things that made me me, where I was most comfortable, who I was, and how I was going to define my life," she says. "And I found the coat that fit me."
Her sexuality never has been and is not now "a big deal" for her, she says. "Part of the reason why I've never said that I was gay until now was because I didn't want that adjective assigned to my name for all of eternity. You know, gay Rosie O'Donnell."
O'Donnell, who lost her mother when she was 10 and describes her father as "not very available," says being gay was not that big of an obstacle in her generally difficult childhood.
Still, she believes that being gay is incredibly challenging.
"I don't think you choose whether or not you're gay," she says. "Who would choose it? It's a very difficult life. You get socially ostracized. You worry all the time whether or not you're in physical danger if you show affection to your partner. You're worried that you're an outcast with your friends and with society in general."
Florida Case Strikes a Chord
Though there has been speculation that she chose to discuss her sexuality only because her talk show will come to an end this May, the actress/comedian says that is not so.
"I wanted there to be a reason" to talk about her sexuality, she says. And when she learned about a Florida gay parenting case, she found that reason and has made it her cause.
Steve Lofton and Roger Croteau are raising five HIV-positive children, three of whom are foster kids. The couple were able to adopt the other two in Oregon. The family was thrown into disarray when the state of Florida told them they had to give up one of their foster children, Bert, whom they have raised for 10 years. Lofton and Croteau would like to adopt Bert, but under Florida law they can't, because they are gay.