Irene Monroe examines the life of the deceased pop star in this piece about how family, career and church kept her in the closet, pushing her to a downward spiral of drug abuse.
It’s been over five years since Whitney Houston was found dead in the bathtub of her Beverly Hilton Hotel room on 11 February 2011. Family, friends, and fans typically blame Whitney’s colossal downfall on drugs and Boston’s bad boy Bobby Brown.
The truth is: both drugs and Brown masked her sexuality.
Now five years since her death, curiosity about the legendary Whitney Houston’s sexuality has resurfaced again.
The New York Times published an article titled Whitney Houston’s Secret. Bobby Brown released his second memoir, Every Little Step. And the much talked about documentary, Whitney: Can I Be Me?, debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
‘I don’t think she was gay, I think she was bisexual,’ stylist Ellin Lavar says in the documentary.
Whitney Houston and Robyn Crawford
Houston’s personal assistant as well as best friend, Robyn Crawford, was rumored to have been Houston’s lesbian lover. For a while, the two women lived together.
Crawford shared her story of life with Whitney Houston in the February 2012 online issue of Esquire Magazine.
‘I met her when she was 16. It was at a summer job… She had peachy colored skin and she didn’t look like anyone I’d ever met in East Orange, New Jersey. And we went around the world. I was her assistant and then her executive assistant and then her creative director.
‘I have never spoken about her until now. She was a loyal friend, and she knew I was never going to be disloyal to her. Now I can’t believe that I’m never going to hug her or hear her laughter again.’
In his memoir, Brown writes that Houston’s lesbianism was ‘an open secret’. He writes:
‘They couldn’t let Whitney live the life she wanted to live; they insisted that she be perfect, that she be someone she wasn’t. That’s why they wanted Robyn out.’
Were drugs and Bobby Brown a cover?
It seems drugs and Boston’s bad boy Bobby Brown helped Houston develop an identity her community could approve of.
Now Houston’s black fans are all embracing and adoring. But they weren’t always. In 1989, Houston was booed at the Soul Train Awards for supposedly ‘not being black enough’.
It was at that same show that she met Bobby Brown.
‘I have a theory about Whitney Houston,’ said singer-actress Della Reese, a longtime Houston family friend. ‘I’ve been called “Uncle Tom” and I know how that feels. I think Whitney was so hurt by being called a “sellout” and “acting white” and crap like that, that she wanted to change her image. What better way to do that than to marry a bad boy?
‘And the drug abuse makes her a flawed person fighting to overcome her demons – makes her relatable.”
“Wild sex sessions with women while out of her mind on crack cocaine.”
Rumors that Houston was lesbian have been circulating for more than three decades. And those close to Houston have not been shy about speculating about her sexuality.
The singer’s former chauffeur, Al Bowman, is one.
He spilled his story to tabloid television news show, Entertainment Tonight. He claimed he had witnessed Whitney and Bobby high on cocaine and in a threesome with an A-list soul singer in the back of his limo.
Houston’s sister-in-law, Tina Brown, and her ex-bodyguard, Kevin Ammons, both believed Houston may have been a lesbian. She was said to have ‘had wild sex sessions with women while out of her mind on crack cocaine.’
The only solution was to get married and have kids
Her ex-spouse, Brown, says over time, he came to believe Whitney married him with an ulterior motive. He spoke about it in his 2007 ‘tell-all’ book, Bobby Brown: The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But…
In it, he writes:
‘I believe her agenda was to clean up her image, while mine was to be loved and have children. The media was accusing her of having a bisexual relationship with her assistant, Robin [sic] Crawford. Since she was the American Sweetheart and all, that didn’t go too well with her image.
‘In Whitney’s situation, the only solution was to get married and have kids. That would kill all speculation, whether it was true or not.’
The freest Houston may have been expressing her sexuality without being drugged out of her mind might have been in 1999 at the 13th Annual New York City Lesbian and Gay Pride Dance. Houston that year flew in for a special surprise guest appearance. While there, she performed her then two most recent hits, It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay and Heartbreak Hotel.
“Would it have bothered you if your daughter was gay?”
Houston’s mother, Cissy, a devout Christian, never accepted her daughter’s homoerotic feelings for Robyn Crawford. In her 2013 memoir, Remembering Whitney, Cissy wrote unabashedly of her disdain for Crawford.
Oprah that same year, in an interview with Cissy, asked: ‘Would it have bothered you if your daughter was gay?’
‘Absolutely,’ Cissy snapped back.
‘You wouldn’t have condoned it?’ continued an incredulous Oprah.
‘Not at all.’
If Robyn was accepted, Whitney would still be alive
Her family and the calculating money-makers behind Whitney’s career no doubt contributed to her having a ‘down low’ life.
But the church was a co-conspirator. They were at it even at her ‘home-going’ – or funeral – service. Her family friends included a number of homophobes. Pastor Donnie McClurkin, the poster boy for African American ‘ex-gay’ ministries, was one guest. And so were gospel singers Angie and Debbie Winans. They released a single in 1998 titled Not Natural, in which they self-righteously denounced LGBTI people.
So perhaps a life in the closet, on the down low, was the only existence Houston felt was possible for her.
Brown gave his view to US Weekly magazine:
‘I really feel that if Robyn was accepted into Whitney’s life, Whitney would still be alive today.’
I, do, too!
We may never know all the demons that took this pop superstar diva down a tortured road of self-destruction. But it’s time everyone recognized that homophobia was one of them.