Most Americans know Meredith Baxter as Elyse Keaton, the mother on the popular ‘80s sitcom Family Ties. But many didn't know Baxter was a lesbian. Actually, just until a few years ago, she didn’t know it herself.

“I am a lesbian and it was a later-in-life recognition,” Baxter told Matt Lauer on NBC’s "Today." “Some people would say, well, you’re living a lie and, you know, the truth is — not at all. This has only been for the past seven years.”

The 62-year-old actress has kept quiet about her sexuality until now, but ultimately decided to come forward as rumors have made their way into the tabloids. The National Enquirer recently reported that Baxter was seen on a Caribbean cruise sponsored by lesbian travel company Sweet. The article reported that Baxter was “traveling with a female friend, and she seemed very relaxed and comfortable.”

“I’ve always lived a very private life,” she told Lauer. “To come out and disclose stuff is very antithetical to who I am.” But she went on to say, “I did not want some tabloid to take the story and make it up — I wanted it to be in my own words,”

Baxter has been married to men three times, the last of which ended in 2000, and it was shortly thereafter that she discovered the truth about herself. “I got involved with someone I never expected to get involved with, and it was that kind of awakening,” she said. “I never fought it because it was like, oh, I understand why I had the issues I had early in life. I had a great deal of difficulty connecting with men in relationships.”

Now that her sexuality is out in the open, Baxter hopes that her voice can make a difference. “This is a political act, even though that’s not what it feels like to me. If anyone knows someone who’s gay or lesbian … they’re less likely to vote against them to take away their rights. I can be that lesbian you know now …”