Talkshow host Oprah Winfrey took the unusual step Wednesday of denying rumors that have circulated for weeks that she is gay.

Winfrey released a statement and addressed the issue in her keynote address to the Promax convention in Chicago. “Since my appearance on the ‘Ellen’ show there have been rumors that I’m gay,” Winfrey said. “I’ve addressed this on my show but the rumor mill still churns.”

The rumors began when syndicated columnist Liz Smith wrote that one of the biggest and longest-running TV stars, “an icon and role model to millions,” is contemplating coming out of the closet. “Apparently, people assume that it’s me,” she said. “It’s not.”

This past week, rumors have surfaced that Newsweek would be doing a coming out interview with Winfrey similar to the one Ellen DeGeneres did with Time magazine. Winfrey said that rumor is also untrue.

While it’s unusual to issue a statement denying such whisper campaigns, Winfrey said several “legitimate” news organizations had called her office about the rumors in recent days, and some, including a New York daily, planned to write stories. A couple of other news organization, including E! Entertainment TV and a Toronto paper, have run stories on the rumors already, sources said.

“As I’ve said, I appeared on Ellen’s show because I wanted to support her in her desire to free herself — and I thought it was a really good script,” Winfrey said. “I am not in the closet. I am not coming out of the closet. I am not gay.”

While Winfrey is risking that some may think that she protests too much, a spokeswoman for GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) said Winfrey is “courageous” and did not seem to be making the denial out of fear.

“I think it’s an unfortunate byproduct that when straight people support gay and lesbian causes, they themselves are perceived to be gay,” said Liz Tracey, GLAAD’s associate communications director.

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