Gay Iraq War Vet, Award-winning Journalist & Author
“One of the most powerful speakers I’ve ever heard.”
—Natalie Unger, President of Rainbow Alliance, University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh
Rob Smith is an openly gay Iraq war veteran, journalist, and author of the #1 bestseller Closets, Combat and Coming Out: Coming of Age as a Gay Man in the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Army, which won the 2015 National Indie Excellence Book Award for LGBT Nonfiction and was a nominee for the 2015 Lambda Literary Award for Memoir. He currently works as a multimedia journalist for NBC News, Time, MSN, and AOL.
A sought-after keynote speaker, Smith has spoken about veterans’ issues and LGBT rights and empowerment at dozens of college campuses, pride events, and corporate functions across the United States, including Vanderbilt University, Virginia Tech, the Reaching Out LGBT MBA Conference, and the 2014 Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender and Allies College Conference among many more. In 2014, he served as the Grand Marshal of the Key West Pride Parade, and was a featured speaker at the NYC Pride Rally.
Smith recently pioneered video coverage of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions for NBC Out, the first LGBT-focused vertical from a mainstream news organization. He is a recipient of the 2015 National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) award for Excellence in Blogging, and the 2016 Gay City News LGBT Impact Award for multimedia coverage of issues impacting the LGBT community.
Smith served for five years in the United States Army as an Infantryman and deployed to both Kuwait and Iraq, earning the Army Commendation Medal and Combat Infantry Badge in the process. In 2010 he was arrested at the White House with 12 other LGBT activists in protest of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law which barred lesbian, gay, and bisexual soldiers from serving openly, and he was later a guest of President Barack Obama at the ceremony that repealed the law.
Smith’s award-winning, bestselling memoir, Closets, Combat, and Coming Out, chronicles his journey as a young African-American man coming to terms with his sexuality amid the backdrop of the hyper-masculine, homophobic U.S. Army. After he survived the notoriously brutal Infantry basic training and then found himself as a young gay man while remaining closeted to all but a few of his colleagues at his first duty station, he found himself in dangerous territory after the United States declared war on Iraq and his unit was one of the first called in after the initial invasion.
Rob Smith holds an M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University. He lives in New York City with his fiancé, the artist Mikhail Safronov, and is working on his next book.
Praise for Rob Smith’s Talks
“The event was an absolute success and I really think that we reached a group of students within the LGBTQ community that we rarely talk about. Rob was a great speaker and I think everyone that came really enjoyed his lecture.”
—University of Delaware
“We couldn’t have asked for a better representative of the community to be our Grand Marshal for Key West Pride! His reading/lecture with the local VFW and with our MCC church brought a dose of energy and inspiration to our Pride Week!”
—Matt Hon, Executive Director, Key West Business Guild
“Rob’s talk was excellent! Students felt like he was speaking to them individually, and they were moved by his words. The event also was a great relationship builder between LGBT groups and veteran groups on campus. We were so pleased!”
—University of Wisconsin, Whitewater
“We were thrilled to have Rob our keynote speaker for our Pride Month activities. As both an author and journalist and a veteran LGBT activist, he gave us much needed insight about how a consistent focus on inclusion is always good for the bottom line.”
Praise for Closets, Combat, and Coming Out
“. . .a riveting first-hand account of a shameful time in our recent history when courageous men like Smith were forced to serve their country in silence.”
—Keith Boykin, New York Times bestselling author
“Smith does not hold back. . . Here is a lesson learned, where you can truly choose to become all that you can be, and especially be true to yourself.”
“. . .a highly relatable account of a young man overcoming considerable odds and coming out whole on the other side.”
—Gay City News
“. . .full of feeling and a fundamental sense of principle.”
Speaking Topic Descriptions
Wake Up! NBC News Journalist Smith Dives into How Progressives Helped Make Trump President—And How to Continue the Fight for LGBTQ Rights Under His Presidency
A biased media, elitist progressives, and complacent activists helped a frustrated Silent Majority of primarily white working class voters propel Donald Trump to the presidency. How did this happen, and where do true progressives go from here?
In this lecture, Smith shares the voices of LGBTQ voters for Trump, the frustrations of the white voters who ultimately voted for him, the mistakes progressives made in dealing with his campaign, and how they can continue to fight for LGBTQ rights while recapturing the working-class vote that will propel them back to victory in the 2018 midterm elections and beyond. Smith covered the Trump campaign in 2016 for Time, MSN, and AOL, reported from the Republican and Democratic National Conventions for NBC News Digital, and was one of the first journalists to shine a light on the motivations of the LGBTQ voters that supported Donald Trump.
Best for: LGBTQ Student Groups, African-American Affinity Groups, LGBT History Month, Black History Month, Coming Out Week, Pride Week, Spirit Day, Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, Veteran Student Groups, Veteran Groups, Political Groups, Political Student Groups, Journalist Groups, Student Journalist Groups
Closets, Combat and Coming Out: Finding The Path to Pride
In this lecture spanning intersectional issues of Veterans’ rights and LGBTQ struggles Gay Iraq War Veteran and multimedia journalist Rob Smith goes in depth into the challenges that young LGBTQ people face, as well as the challenges that veterans face on the battlefield—and the home front. A decorated Iraq War Veteran and multimedia journalist, he currently reports for NBC News, Time, and AOL among others. He also serves as the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) Ambassador for Veterans Outreach, and has given lectures and workshops about the issues faced by veterans all across the country.
Smith entered the U.S. Army as a closeted teen and emerged as a decorated war veteran before becoming a national figure in the anti-DADT movement. In his lecture Closets, Combat and Coming Out: Finding the Path to Pride, (adapted from his Lambda Literary Award-nominated memoir) he details his life as a closeted soldier, his experiences at war, and the transition into becoming a leading voice for veterans and LGBTQ people—first as an activist—now as a Columbia University educated multimedia journalist.
Best for: LGBTQ Student Groups, African-American Affinity Groups, LGBT History Month, Black History Month, Coming Out Week, Pride Week, Spirit Day, Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, Veteran Student Groups, Veteran Groups
Beyond “Diversity:” Bringing True Inclusion to Your Company or Organization
“Diversity” is out. True inclusion means bringing people of different backgrounds and perspectives into your organization—and doing your part to make sure they are heard. Gay Iraq War Veteran and multimedia journalist Rob Smith has spoken across the country about his experiences as a gay soldier serving under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and now juggles his journalism work with service as the National Black Justice Coalition’s Ambassador for Veterans Outreach.
Smith has spoken at companies such as Deutsche Bank, The Key West Business Guild, and others interested in recruiting and training a workforce that is inclusive of veterans, LGBTQ people, and people of color. In his lecture “Beyond Diversity,” he will give your company or organization tips about how to to broaden its racial and socioeconomic reach in the service of true inclusion.
Best for: Corporate Retreats, Corporate Functions, Corporate Workshops, Corporate Pride Month Events, Corporate African-American History Month Events, Corporate Veterans Month Events, Memorial Day Events, Veterans Day Events
The State of LGBTQ People of Color in 2016 and Beyond
In this lecture Rob Smith offers sobering statistics and anecdotes from his own life as well as his journalistic work in the hopes of giving allies of LGBTQ people of color an insight into the issues they face, and the tools and advice that POC need to survive in a society where the deck is stacked against them.
Thanks to trailblazers like Laverne Cox, Empire star Jussie Smollett, and sports icons like Jason Collins, LGBTQ people of color are more visible than ever. However, the life of the average LGBTQ person of color is far different than that of those of our most prominent figures. QPOC contend with with racism within the LGBT community, institutional and economic barriers to resources and healthcare, and HIV/AIDS rates that continue to rise even as they stabilize among other communities.
Openly gay Iraq war veteran, author, and journalist Smith has been on the front lines of all these issues. As a journalist exploring economic differences in access to PrEP for HIV prevention as a part of a Columbia University journalism project, he spoke with young black gay men and healthcare professionals who were on the front lines of advocacy. As one of few black, gay figures involved in the fight against DADT, he spoke and reported about how African-American soldiers were disproportionately affected by the discriminatory law, and advocated for open service by transgender service members post-DADT repeal. Finally, as a black gay man negotiating a career in media and advocacy, he’s dealt with his own share of racism in the wider LGBTQ community.
Best for: LGBTQ Student Groups, African-American Affinity Groups, LGBT History Month, Black History Month, Coming Out Week, Pride Week, Spirit Day