CNN Anchor Don Lemon Has Come Out of the Closet, But He's Not Ready to be the Black Gay Poster Child
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Less than 24 hours after declaring his sexuality to the New York Times , CNN anchor-turned-author Don Lemon chatted with theLoop21’s Keli Goff during what had been a whirlwind of a day. Fatigued but forthcoming, the 45-year-old Louisiana native discussed homophobia in the African-American community, childhood sexual abuse, and why now was the perfect time to come out as a gay man.
Keli Goff: What was your biggest fear last night when you went to bed, knowing you were going to make this announcement today?
Don Lemon: That people would say, "who cares?" in a sarcastic way and that it wouldn’t make a difference for young people and that people would think that I was doing some sort of selfish thing, and I’m not. I mean you have no idea which way these things are going to go. A lot of people don’t really like to have their business out in the streets and that’s why so many people haven’t come out.
For all the people who say it’s not a big deal and “who cares?” then why aren’t there more journalists out, why aren’t there more politicians out, why aren’t there more actors out? Why are people still afraid to come out? I know it’s a big deal and I don’t mean for me, I mean it’s a big deal for people to come out and be who they are. It’s a big deal for young people not to think they are bad because they are struggling with their sexuality and think they are gay.
One of the reasons I didn’t come out earlier is because I am not the Ken doll that represents the gay community. I didn’t think anyone in the gay commun ity would support me because I’m not the classic gay role model. I’m not the Clark Kent type. I would go and host event s at gay organizations as a news anchor and I would be the only African American in the room, so I thought maybe nobody’s going to care because I’m not the blonde, white guy. That was a concern for me.
KG: How do you respond to people who say they're sick of people coming out when they have a project to push, a book, movie or whatever?
DL: Everyone has their own opinion about everything. The catalyst for coming out was the book, not the other way around. The book was supposed to be a sort of a Chicken Soup for the Soul kind of thing about becoming successful, and then as I started to write I was like, who needs another book like this? And I just started writing a book I would want to read, and I started to write about my childhood and all these sorts of things started to come out: T he molestation and feeling isolated as a kid because I felt different and I couldn’t share with anyone that I was gay.
I sent it to the editors who at first were like, “be careful”-- then they read it and were like “this is really good.” And I said, “Leave it in there. I can always take it out before we go to press.” I read it and thought, this is a book that would have helped me as a young man. I let CNN read it and that’s when Tyler Clementi jumped off of a bridge and I said, “Leave it.” There was no turning back because it wasn’t just about me. I’m not going to make any money off of a damn book and I’m certainly taking a big risk because I don’t know if people are going to watch me, if they have some preconceived notion about what gay people are like, especially in the black community so it’s not about me pushing a product.
KG: Do you consider the black community homophobic?
DL: YES! I think there is a segment of the black community—a BIG segment of the black community—that is homophobic and it has a lot to do with religion. The church has been the backbone for so long through slavery and all of those things. You had to pray your way out of slavery. People think you can pray your way out of issues or problems and some believe being gay is one of them. In black culture, and similar in Latino and other minority cultures, it’s the worst thing you can do as a man. In both cultures you have to be a man and they equate being gay with not being a man.
KG: Do you see yourself becoming a vocal activist or advocate for the LGBT community?