Television journalist Brad Edwards has accomplished much in his life, such as winning multiple awards and including serving on the board of directors at the YWCA, whose goal is to "empower women and eliminate racism." However, there's one achievement that's especially noteworthyespecially with this newspaper's readers: He is the first out member of the LGBTQ community who's anchoring a Chicago nighttime newscast ( at 5, 6 and 10 p.m. on the local CBS affiliate, which is the fastest growing newscast at the latter time slot for 12 consecutive months ).
In a wide-ranging interview, Edwards talked with Windy City Times about everything from coming out to dating ABC News meteorologist Ginger Zee to having a passion for investigative journalism.
Windy City Times: I'll start with more of a general question: Of course you're supposed to be objective when delivering the news, how hard is to resist sometimes putting in your own two cents?
Brad Edwards: That's a good question. I think we do now, at CBS 2, have a bit of an opiniona bit of an attitude. But it's neither right nor left, politically; it's right in that it's correct. We lean [toward] what should happen and what's just.
An example was when we found out Chicago police were consistently raiding the wrong homes. We did stories on thatand reported that the cops were putting guns to children's heads when the people they were looking for were already in prison. They were mind-blowing gaffes by the Chicago police. We did that story to the point where there is now new legislation, and where we won the Peabody Awardthe gold standard of journalism. So the opinion was "[These raids] shouldn't be happening."
WCT: And is that why investigative journalism is so important to you?
BE: Ah! To me, if you're not using the microphone as an apparatus of accountability, you ain't doing it right. If you're not giving voice to the voiceless, if you're not trying to right wrongs, change policies or better communities, then why even take it up?
By the way, there's something that's so great about this job. It wasn't just an anchor change that happened [last year]; it was a change in how we approach the news. It's data-heavy, FOIA-heavy and source-heavy. If you just want to see what happened throughout the day, you can watch one of the other channels; we're aggressively uncovering news.
I enjoy anchoring our news because I like watching our news. There's not a lot of news I enjoy watching.
WCT: You're the first openly gay local nighttime news anchor. Do you feel any pressure to be a role model, or is there any weight with that designation?
BE: That's a really good question. [Actually,] I do. When you're the first in anything, there is certainly an added pressure to succeed—and I feel that pressure, and I put that pressure on myself. That being said, it's almost exacerbated because I never thought I'd have this large a role. Growing up in conservative western Michigan, I never allowed myself to dream this big.
When you're gay growing up in the era I did [Edwards is 41], it was certainly better than the era beforethe rule of the land, instituted by a Democratic president [Bill Clinton] was "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." That means "stay in the closet," so you had to downgrade your dreams accordingly. I loved watching the news and 60 Minutes, but they painted a bleak picture of being gay in the '80s and '90s. They were letting gays die in California. Ryan Whitewho wasn't gayhad our disease: AIDS; what they did to poor kid in his hometown of Kokomo, Indiana. And then there was [serial killer] Jeffrey Dahmerhow those stories being portrayed. With TV being my window to the world, it was a bleak, bleak place.
We still have a long way to go. There weren't kids who were out back then. I had a truly remarkable coming-out experience but as a kidwhen nobody knows you're gay, and you're not sure yourselfcertain things can invalidate you. [There were] grown men saying the f-word and people you admire telling gay jokes. It's constant invalidation that leads you to recalibrate your expectations for lifeand my expectations were certainly not this [where I am now].
I look at some of the gay men in our communitythe Stonewall generation and the AIDS generationand I bow to them. I am a nighttime gay anchor in Chicago, and the firstbut it's not a big deal in Chicago, and it should be. However, many gay journalists reach out to me, and it's surreal. I certainly don't think of myself as a trailblazer, per se, but hopefully it is blazing a trail to equality.
America is going through a remarkable reconciliation with its past, and maybe I'm just a little part of that. But the key is the work, the content. To me, my work and my belief in investigative journalism come from having a chip on my shoulder; you're damn right I have a chip on my shoulder, although I had a great coming-out experience. I came out to my mom and dad, and my dad hugged me; I went back to college and changed my major to journalismand now I'm here. I was going to be a teacher; I was going to hide behind books, articles and the history of English, wondering how things would've been if I had been a journalist. So many LGBTQ people haven't had that opportunity.
WCT: Were your parents the first people you came out to?
BE: No; I first came out to the girlfriend of my best friend in high school. The second person I came out to was my brother. He let me know things were going to be safe.
WCT: So when you dated Ginger Zee, where were you in terms of…
BE: I was out. I identify as gay, but I also believe that sexuality isn't binary. I fell in love with a woman, you know.
WCT: I do believe that sexuality is a spectrum.
BE: Yeah. Anyone who judges anyone else within our group, shame on them. But, yes, I'm gay and I dated Gingerand now we're best friends.
WCT: I also saw what Ginger said about her suicide attempts, and that must've hit you pretty hard.
BE: That was actually our bond. We both struggled with mental illness: anxiety, depression, body issues. Mental-health issues were stigmatized a lot back then. We were open about those things with each other and it blossomed into a relationship. Ginger is my biggest advocate now; we still talk a lot.
I don't know anyone who's gay who hasn't struggled, whether it's depression, anxiety, addiction, body dysmorphia or something else. Hopefully, as America reconciles with where we are, things will change regarding stigmatization.
WCT: When you recently talked with the Chicago Tribune, you disclosed that you are battling LGL [large granular lymphocytic] leukemia. How are you doing?
BE: It's a really rare blood cancer. In 2017, I got really sick and lethargic; luckily, I had the best doctor in the world. By the end, he took gallons of blood out of me to find out what was going on. Finally, it turned out it was the really rare leukemia; a bone-marrow biopsy at the University of Chicago confirmed it.
Thankfully, I'm doing wellI couldn't be better. It's chronic, so it's a long fight. I do a lot of cardio and I eat right Monday through Friday, and I'm on a regimen of medications, so you'd never know. It forced me to get really serious about my health. If we can keep it at bay through what we know works … it's a long time.
WCT: I want to go back to journalism for a second. There's a question I occasionally ask people but I especially wanted to ask you because you are a journalist: If you could ask the current president one questionand be guaranteed to get the truthwhat would that question be?
BE: [Long pause] That's such a good question. Well, our president is not that different from a lot of Illinois politicians. Sometimes, the first thing I want to do is put them under oath, and then interrogate them for hours.
First, I would ask a lot of Illinois politicians if I could put them under oath. If the answer is "yes," I'd ask a thousand more questions. One of the questions I would ask Trump is "What's in those tax returns?" When someone puts up a monumental fight to not disclose something that's therefor years nowI'd like to know what's happening. It may all be innocent; he may be doing this on principle. [Note: The New York Times, on Sept. 27, published a report claiming Trump paid only $750 in personal federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017, and he paid no income taxes in 10 of the previous 15 years.]
WCT: What would you say is the high point for you so far in your career?
BE: There are a couple of them. There was a woman named Marabel, in Detroit. She called me and was literally crying for help because she was the last one who was about to go on the street; she didn't want to move out. We did so many stories on her, and eventually there was a half-hour special. She never moved out; she died. When she went to the morgue and I lost track of her. Then I got a call from a source at the Wayne County morguesaying that no one had claimed her body. Following that story, we got her body claimed and buried. Then there was a fast-tracking of money to improve that morgueand it started with one woman's call to me.
I have no interest in interviewing stars or big-name politicians. I want to shine a spotlight on the downtrodden, like Marabel in Detroit; Shirley [Bennett] and the shack; and Rodney, the cabbie. Shirley was living in a shack near the Cook County Jail; because of the story, she was reunited with the daughter she hadn't seen in a quarter-century. I fought like hell to tell that story.
I feel like I'm a conduitlike this is my calling.
WCT: October is National Coming Out Month. Do you have any advice for people who are trying to figure out how to come out?
BE: This is an important question. If you know you're [LGBTQ], your best friends probably knowand I think everyone needs to enlist your best friend( s ). Come out first to your people, your crewthe ones you know will have your back. You need your team behind you when you decide to come out to your loved ones.
As far as we've comefor reasons that confound mewhen kids come out to their parents in 2020, there are still some parents who don't accept their children. It's inexplicable.