Was Whitney Houston gay? New book claims living a closeted life destroyed legend
Whitney Houston dominated 1980s television as "a glamorous showgirl shaped by a Svengali" — the influential Arista Records producer Clive Davis. However, not many knew that she was a closeted lesbian.
Author Gerrick Kennedy uncovered the timeless diva's deep and dark secret in his new book 'Didn’t We Almost Have It All: In Defense of Whitney Houston' (Abrams Press), published Tuesday, February 1. Whitney hid her sexuality from the public after feeling the need to conform to her strict religious upbringing, right until her tragic death that took place 10 years ago this week. “Because her music didn’t fit squarely in the boxes expected of a Black girl making music in the ’80s, she was seen as not Black enough. She was ridiculed. Brandished ‘Whitey’ — and endured endless speculation on her sexuality,” Kennedy wrote.
Whitney was raised in Newark, NJ by her devout Christian mother Cissy, who was a member of Newark’s New Hope Baptist Church and a member of the gospel singing clan, the Drinkard Sisters. Whitney felt different even as a little girl. Kennedy described her as a tomboy who reluctantly wore the frilly clothes and hair ribbons chosen by her mother. Instead, she preferred wearing jeans, t-shirts, and running track with her two older brothers, Gary and Michael, the New York Post reported.
Whitney was 17 when she introduced herself to 19-year-old Robyn Crawford in the summer of 1980. At the time, both were working as youth counselors at East Orange Community Center in NJ. “It was a bond that formed almost immediately, and they were inseparable that summer. If you saw one, you saw the other,” Kennedy wrote. Robyn was Whitney's first close pal and her only “unyieldingly loyal" confidante outside of her brothers. The future star felt comfortable with her best friend and could freely be the tomboy who liked smoking cigarettes, getting high and cursing.
Kennedy wrote how Whitney and Robyn came together at the former's living room. “Their lips met, bound by all that had been unspoken between the two. That first kiss was long, warm like honey,” the author wrote. “It was free and honest — loving and tender,” Robyn wrote in her 2019 memoir, 'A Song For You: My Life With Whitney Houston,' as she broke her silence after decades. “We both wanted to touch and explore each other, and we did until we fell asleep in each other’s arms," she remembered.
That summer, the duo sunbathed at the Jersey Shore, frequented gay clubs, and were even caught making out in a rental car by a cop, who told them to move along. Robyn wrote how she would drive Whitney to club shows, while the latter would attend her college basketball games. The lovers also trekked to Harlem to purchase a dime bag of weed and score cocaine, she wrote.
“They were partners in a traditional sense but never had a real conversation about labels — lesbian, gay, bisexual, girlfriend,” Kennedy wrote.
“We were friends. We were lovers. We were everything to each other. We weren’t falling in love. We just were. We were one: that’s how it felt,” Robyn explained in her memoir.
They plotted songs Whitney would sing, as well as their future. They even got an apartment together as Whitney promised to take Robyn wherever life would take her. But it was only a matter of time until the unconventional relationship reached Cissy's ear, who then barred her daughter from even walking next to her lover in public.
Homophobia was rampant in the church and the record industry at the time. Whitney realized that the affair had to end after Clive Davis handed her a record deal, and so she confronted Robyn about it. “You know how I feel about you and we will always have that,” she told her lover, Kennedy wrote. The affair was over the summer it began, but Whitney would employ Robyn as an executive assistant, a role which, according to the author, "expanded over time."
As expected, the appointment did not help quieten the rumors. There was a huge chatter from radio DJs and tabloids in 1985 asking whether Whitney Houston was gay. “The public concluded that Whitney was a closet lesbian and she and Robyn were star-crossed lovers doomed by the oppression of society and Whitney’s religious family,” Kennedy wrote.
Robyn stayed close to Whitney for 15 years as her executive assistant and best friend. It was Robyn who went to Cissy about Whitney's cocaine addiction, but the 'I will always love you' hitmaker brushed it off when confronted about it. Unfortunately, her drug abuse was rampant and spiraling out of control. On February 11, 2012, the star was found face down in a water-filled bathtub at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. She was 48.
Robyn did not open up about her relationship with Whitney for nearly four decades until she published her memoir in 2019. She eventually found love again with 49-year-old Lisa Hintelmann, an executive director at a talent search firm. They tied the knot and adopted twins.
“I realized that I needed to save myself,” Robyn wrote in her memoir. Touching on her romantic history with Whitney, she said, “Yes, in the end, it was tragic, but the dream and the rise were beautiful. I owe it to my friend to share her story, my story. Our story. And I hope that in doing so, I can set us free."