NEW YORK – Rosie O'Donnell, in her first extensive public discussion about being gay, says in a television interview to air Thursday that she didn't come out sooner partly because she didn't consider it a big deal.
O'Donnell said she didn't want the adjective "gay" permanently attached to her name.
"It was never a big deal for me," she said. "It remains not a big deal for me. It is not the way that I describe myself. But nor is it a way that I distance myself from."
ABC made excerpts of O'Donnell's interview with Diane Sawyer available Wednesday. It will be shown on Primetime Thursday at 9 p.m. EST.
O'Donnell, who has won four straight Daytime Emmy awards for best talk-show host and was nominated again on Wednesday, is quitting her syndicated show in May. She told Sawyer that played a part in her decision to talk about her sexuality now.
She also wanted to speak out to oppose a Florida law restricting the adoption of children by gay parents. O'Donnell, who has three adopted children, said she's willing to be the nation's image of a gay parent.
"I don't think America knows what a gay parent looks like," she said. "I am the gay parent. America has watched me parent my children on TV for six years. They know what kind of parent I am."
O'Donnell's coming-out is a big moment for gay and lesbian Americans, said Joan Garry, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
"Now no one will be able to say that they don't know someone who is gay," Garry said, "because everyone knows Rosie."
Some gay activists were unhappy that O'Donnell hasn't spoken out publicly before, but Garry said GLAAD doesn't fault her because it's a difficult personal decision.
The announcement isn't likely to affect her show, according to an expert in television syndication. Ratings have slid for The Rosie O'Donnell Show, as they have for most talk shows, because there's more competition in daytime TV, said Bill Carroll of the Katz Television Group.
"The audience has accepted her and I think they will be accepting of any choice she makes," he said.
O'Donnell has a similar faith in her television audience.
"I think if they felt as though it was a lie, if they felt like I was pretending to be who I am on the show, they would turn away," she said. "But I haven't lied to them yet. This is another element that I haven't shown them. But it was never a lie."
O'Donnell said she realized she was gay when she was 18. Two years later, she first fell in love with a woman, but she said she also has had male lovers. O'Donnell is in a four-year relationship with a woman, former TV executive Kelli Carpenter, with whom she has adopted a child.
O'Donnell's childhood — with a mother who died when she was young and an emotionally distant father — caused her more difficulties than being gay, she said. She said she had never felt discriminated against because of her sexuality.
"I have lived my life very openly and very truthfully," she said. "When I was with a man, everyone knew who my partner was. And when I was with a woman, everyone knew who my partner was. There was never any secret or any hiding."
Her much-publicized "crush" on actor Tom Cruise wasn't an attempt to deceive. "I never once said I want him naked in a bed doing the nasty," she said. "I want him to mow my lawn and get me a lemonade."
She said she hoped her children would not be homosexual because "life is easier if you're straight."
People don't need to approve of her lifestyle to support making laws easier for gays and lesbians to adopt, she said.
"I'm not asking that people accept homosexuality," she said. "I'm not asking that they believe like I do, that it's inborn. I'm not asking that. All I'm saying is, don't let these children suffer without a family because of your bias."
Sawyer noted that President Bush has said he believes children ought to be adopted in families with a woman and a man who are married.
"President Bush is wrong about that," O'Donnell said. "He's really wrong. And, you know, if he'd like, he and his wife are invited to come spend a weekend at my house with my children. And I'm sure his mind will change."