For years, a rumor has spread on social media platforms that a 2012 Newsweek magazine cover featured then-U.S. President Barack Obama with a rainbow halo graphic circling his head and text reading, "THE FIRST GAY PRESIDENT."
The claim picked up steam in September 2023, after former Fox News host Tucker Carlson interviewed Larry Sinclair — a man who, for years, has claimed without verifiable evidence that he took drugs and had sex with Obama when he was a young politician. There's no proof of that happening.
The interview inspired a new wave of social media posts about Obama's sexual orientation, including ones featuring the in-question Newsweek cover.
Newsweek 2012 LOL pic.twitter.com/Yvss29sjdD
— Catturd ™ (@catturd2) September 6, 2023
The Newsweek magazine cover was real. It appeared online and on newsstands in May 2012 and promoted a story inside authored by conservative journalist Andrew Sullivan about Obama's shifting stance on gay marriage over the years.
Titled "Andrew Sullivan on Barack Obama's Gay Marriage Evolution," the story was published on Newsweek's website on May 13, 2012. Despite the magazine cover's insinuation, the story's text did not call Obama "the first gay president," nor did it make any such claims about his sexuality. The article was published four days after Obama announced his support for legalizing same-sex marriage in an interview with ABC News.
The feature image for the article (i.e. the photo above the story's text) was the same as the cover.
At the time of this writing, Newsweek's online archive of magazine covers only included issues from 2013 to the present. "I can confirm that the cover is genuine," a Newsweek representative said when we reached out for comment. "Our online archive only goes back to 2013 because content prior to this has not been digitized, and we do not currently have an archive of prior covers."
We found a Facebook post from the day of Sullivan's story (May 13, 2012) that was authored by Newsweek's official account. The post shared the in-question cover.
The Facebook post read: "Presenting this week's cover: Barack Obama, the first gay president. Click 'like' if you like it! Let's hear your thoughts. This issue hits newsstands and the iPad tomorrow morning."
Reputable news publications including ABC, Politico, The Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post wrote about the cover at the time. For instance, the LA Times reported, "Newsweek, which has recently become a conduit for controversy with its cover art choices, drew more attention with the debut of its latest issue declaring President Obama to be 'the first gay president.'"
ABC likened the reference to occasions on which Bill Clinton had been described as "the first black president" because of his work on behalf of African Americans:
Newsweek's cover may be designed to elicit the memory of another White House occupant with a not-so-fitting title. Supporters of then-President Bill Clinton dubbed him the "first black president" for his work with the African American community. The term was first used by author Toni Morrison in a 1998 issue of The New Yorker.
Considering the fact that Newsweek's official Facebook account shared the cover and multiple reputable news publications wrote about it, we rated this claim "True."
The question of whether this or that alleged magazine cover is real or fake is often presented to Snopes. In some cases, the viral images are the product of digital editing — like, in April 2022, when a fictional Time magazine cover claimed to omit the letters "V" and "Z" in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's name.