CNN anchor Don Lemon killed two birds with one stone this weekend by coming out while plugging his new book Transparent in a New York Times interview. He also released a heartfelt official statement where he admitted being molested as a kid and staying closeted for fear of hatred, mockery, and rejection. His Twitter supporters have been awesome so far. But as NYT writer Bill Carter wonders, will Lemon’s admission carry any career or community repercussions?
Mr. Lemon has not made a secret of his sexual orientation in his work life; many of his CNN co-workers and managers have long been aware that he is gay. But he still acknowledged that going public in his book carries certain risks.
“I’m scared,” he said in a telephone interview. “I’m talking about something that people might shun me for, ostracize me for.”
Even beyond whatever effect his revelation might have on his television career, Mr. Lemon said he recognized this step carried special risk for him as a black man.
“It’s quite different for an African-American male,” he said. “It’s about the worst thing you can be in black culture. You’re taught you have to be a man; you have to be masculine. In the black community they think you can pray the gay away.” He said he believed the negative reaction to male homosexuality had to do with the history of discrimination that still affects many black Americans, as well as the attitudes of some black women.
“You’re afraid that black women will say the same things they do about how black men should be dating black women.” He added, “I guess this makes me a double minority now.”
Lemon got an Edward R. Murrow Award for covering the capture of the D.C. area sniper and other awards for his reporting on Hurricane Katrina and the African AIDS epidemic. Ebony magazine also voted him as one of the 150 most powerful African-Americans in 2009. He also came out as a victim of molestation amid the Eddie Long molestation scandal which rocked Long’s predominantly African-American conservative congregation.
So Lemon’s high standing, career accolades, and reputation for honesty have provided him a solid base on which to come out. And while it’s awesome he has done so in his own way—especially as one of the few openly-gay news anchors currently on TV—will he face any backlash for coming out? On the contrary, Lemon could easily position himself as an effective LGBT advocate both behind and away from the news desk. Listen for clues of his next moves forward when he appears on the CNN Newsroom and Joy Behar’s show this week.
Guess that means we can count Lemon out as a suspect in Howard Bragman’s big celebrity coming out.