Braunwyn Windham-Burke Says She's 'Incredibly Sad' to Leave RHOC: 'I Loved Every Moment'
The Orange County Housewife joined the Bravo franchise in 2019
Braunwyn Windham-Burke is "incredibly sad" to be handing in her orange.
On Wednesday, PEOPLE exclusively revealed that the Real Housewives of Orange County star, along with castmates Kelly Dodd and Elizabeth Lyn Vargas, will not be returning to the Bravo reality series. Joining current Housewives Shannon Beador, Gina Kirschenheiter and Emily Simpson for season 16 is returner Heather Dubrow, who left the franchise in 2017.
"I'm incredibly sad to not be able to come back to The Real Housewives of Orange County next year. I loved every moment of being a Housewife, and am so proud of my time on the show — the good, the bad, and the in-between," Windham-Burke says in an exclusive statement to PEOPLE.
"It feels revolutionary to say, but I was able to get sober and stay sober on reality TV. That is something for which I will forever be grateful. And I came out, becoming the first gay Housewife in the franchise's history. What an incredible honor to look back upon, especially during Pride Month," she continues.
"I know I may have been too much for some, and that's okay. I am real, and I am happy being me. I'm so grateful to those who have stood by me," Windham-Burke says. "There is a lot more to my life, and I hope you'll stick with me on this journey as I move forward in my next chapter."
Windham-Burke joined the Housewives franchise for season 14 in 2019. On the most recent season 15, Windham-Burke made a series of personal revelations — including her admission that she's an alcoholic and telling fans that she's a lesbian.
"I am on a journey of sobriety, I am redefining my marriage, I am finding myself," she said on the season 15 finale, before a producer asked: "Who is Braunwyn?"
"Braunwyn is an amazing mom, a good friend and she is a big ol' lesbian," she responded. "I like women and it's beautiful. This is the real me."
In April, Windham-Burke appeared on the PEOPLE Every Day podcast, where she opened up about having an open marriage with her husband of over 20 years, Sean Burke — with whom she shares seven children — after coming out and entering into a romantic relationship with ex-girlfriend Kris last year.
RELATED: RHOC's Braunwyn Windham-Burke Did Not Offer Cocaine to Shannon Beador's Teenage Daughter: Source
"I had a relationship with a girlfriend that was platonic, but I fell in love with her," Windham-Burke said of Kris. "And a lot of things were happening in my marriage at the time. Sean had someone else in our home, I had feelings for another woman, a lot of things were occurring off-camera at that time. And it basically kind of blew up."
Listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day for more on the RHOC cast shakeup.
"Sean and I had a very good, long, honest conversation, and I was like, 'I want to be with a woman. This is what I want,' " the Bravo star continued. "We had known that I was bisexual for a long time, but some things had happened … I was sober, I was doing inventory, and I had, for the first time in my life, been with a woman, sober. … And I was like, I'm not straight at all. I know this now."
At the time, she said that her marriage with Sean had "been a day-by-day process."
"Some days have been great and some days have been really hard," she said. "We are doing our best to navigate something that I've never seen done before. We do want to stay married, we do want to stay parents, we are best friends. And some days that seems very attainable, and some days it doesn't."
Earlier this year, Dodd said she would not return to RHOC if Windham-Burke remained on the cast. (During part one of the RHOC season 15 reunion, Dodd accused Windham-Burke of being a "liar" and a "fake alcoholic." The pair also butted heads over politics and over Windham-Burke's relationship with Sean.)
"I know I cannot film with Braunwyn," Dodd said in an Instagram Live, which was captured by a fan account. "I know for a fact that I cannot film with her. There's just no way and if she comes back then I'm out because I know for a fact that I cannot. She's dangerous and calling people racists and homophobic."
Later, Dodd said, "If I'm coming back next year, I just can't come back next year filming with somebody so reckless," and concluded: "I just can't. If she's on, I'm probably out. So, that's probably the way it goes. And by the way, she says she couldn't film with me, so there you go."
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