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UMass Boston PhD student Tangela Roberts met President Barack Obama at the White House in June.
October 13, 2016

UMass Boston PhD Candidate Meets President Obama, Shares Research at White House Pride Event


  • Boston
Tangela Roberts Invited Guest to White House Pride Celebration and White House Community Briefing on Bisexual Concerns

For Tangela Roberts, a PhD candidate in UMass Boston’s Counseling Psychology program, having her research on monosexism published while still in graduate school was a dream come true. Then came the call from the White House.

Roberts’s research first drew attention last December, when she co-authored an article for The Journal of Bisexuality called “Between a Gay and a Straight Place: Bisexual Individuals’ Experiences with Monosexism.” The piece examines monosexism—the discrimination of bisexuals from both the heterosexual and gay communities. Roberts co-wrote the article with Sharon Horne, the director of UMass Boston’s Counseling Psychology Program, and William Hoyt, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

A few weeks after the article was published, a reporter from The Huffington Post called. Then BiNet, a nonprofit that advocates for bisexual communities, called. Before long, she found herself with an invitation to the White House Pride Celebration.

“I think I had many celebrations of my own after that,” Roberts said.

On the day of the Pride event, Roberts was with the friend she was staying with in Washington, D.C. when she got a call from a blocked number. Her friend joked that it was the White House calling. It was.

“The person at the other end said, ‘I’m calling you because you actually are going to meet the president. I need you to meet at this portrait of a past president at this specific time.’ I dropped the phone,” Roberts said.

Roberts went to the Abraham Lincoln portrait at the appointed time, along with a dozen others. While they were waiting, they heard applause outside. Suddenly, President Barack Obama appeared in the room where they were being held.

“They called my number and I went in and he said, ‘Oh yes, Tangela, keep up the great work.’ I had all these things in my mind to say. I looked at him and I said, ‘My grandmother is really happy that you’re here and that I’m here and that we’re both here together and her name is Leona.’”

Roberts’s article includes the results of an online survey of more than 1,000 people who identified as bisexual. She found that the amount of discrimination the bisexual community feels from the heterosexual community and the gay community is about the same.

“It’s like two people are yelling at you and one is a decibel louder, but at that point, they’re almost indistinguishable. There are still two people yelling at you,” Roberts said. “There’s a perception it’s one big happy LGBT community, and it’s really LG on one side, B on one side, and T on the far side. It’s less cohesive than people want to admit.”

Roberts returned to the White House in September for the White House Briefing on Bisexual Concerns, which featured a series of panel discussions with representatives from the medical and academic fields, activists, and spoken-word poets.

“All of this and I’m still a student. This is a lot. This is amazing and it’s an amazing opportunity to put a microphone to bisexuality and bisexual issues,” Roberts said.

Roberts’s ultimate goal is to earn a tenure track position at a university, with a research focus on bisexual people of color.