Monday, May 16, 2011

Gay CNN Anchor Sees Risk in Book

Don Lemon, the weekend prime-time anchor for CNN, was on the air on Sunday night this month when the news broke that President Obama would address the nation at the unusual hour of 10:30 p.m.
Don Lemon discusses his life and career in “Transparent.”
By the time the news network was confirming the reports of the death of Osama bin Laden, however, Mr. Lemon had been replaced by CNN’s chief anchor, Wolf Blitzer.
“I kind of got big-footed,” Mr. Lemon said, with a knowing laugh.
Now 45, though he looks much younger, Mr. Lemon understands the television news business from long experience, gathered through jobs at such local stations as WCAU in Philadelphia, WMAQ in Chicago and WNYW in New York.
So he has no illusions about what he is getting himself into with the book he has written about his career — and life. In “Transparent,” Mr. Lemon has a lot to say about reporting for television and about journalism in general. But he knows enough about news to recognize what will get this book noticed.
“People are going to say: ‘Oh, he was molested as a kid and now he is coming out.’ I get it,” he said.
Few national television news anchors or hosts have publicly acknowledged being gay. Rachel Maddow is perhaps the best known. Her MSNBC colleague, Thomas Roberts, has also come out as gay.
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.”
So why do it? It really came down to the act of writing the book. Mr. Lemon said he had been on a panel a couple of years ago called “The Black Man in the Age of Obama,” and was approached afterward by a publisher’s representative about writing an inspirational book.
“It was supposed to be a little pamphlet,” he said. “You know: say your prayers; have a good, hearty handshake; say good morning to your boss.”
But as he began to write, he came to realize that he could not hold back the truth of who he was. He started to pour out the details of his personal life. How he had grown up not knowing his father, how he had suffered abuse by someone close to him.
When he informed the publisher of his new tack, the initial reaction was caution. But when the editors saw the material, they embraced it. It was left to Mr. Lemon to experience a bout of nerves and suggest at one point that the most personal material be taken out.
“But as I started to read it back, I said, no, leave it,” Mr. Lemon said. “I abhor hypocrisy. I think if you’re going to be in the business of news, and telling people the truth, of trying to shed light in dark places, then you’ve got to be honest. You’ve got to have the same rules for yourself as you do for everyone else.”
He has been assured of support by CNN, which has booked him as a guest Monday on its daytime show “CNN Newsroom.” He will also be on Joy Behar’s show on the network’s sister channel, HLN. A few other possibilities remain “up in the air,” he said.
Mr. Lemon said he knew that coming out this way would stir up a degree of comment about other television news personalities, and whether any would acknowledge being gay.
“I think it would be great if everybody could be out,” he said. “But it’s such a personal choice. People have to do it at their own speed. I respect that. I do have to say that the more people who come out, the better it is for everyone, certainly for the Tyler Clementis of the world.”
Mr. Clementi was the Rutgers student who committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge after his sexual encounter with a man in his dorm room was shown on the Internet.
“I think if I had seen more people like me who are out and proud, it wouldn’t have taken me 45 years to say it,” Mr. Lemon said, “to walk in the truth.”


Gary Kelly said...

I'm a bit confused about this coming out business. As a kid, I never thought of it that way. I figured the way I was was completely natural... that being myself was okay... that there was no need to apologize or feel embarrassed.

So I guess you could say I never came out because there was nothing to come out of. I was always out.

JustinO'Shea said...

Another time. . . . .another era. .. ?
Different today?

Mind you, I am not saying it ought to be. . . but that IS the way it is. . .right?
On the other hand, if you have been closed, unrevealing. not out for years.. . and then you want to change all that. . ..does there need to be some sort of "OUT - ing" ? Nothing dramatic. . but some sort of notable noticeable change?

No one else'a business. .. but just a life fact?


Gary Kelly said...

I suspect the problem with making a big deal about coming out, from the perspective of "normal" society, is that a person is finally admitting to something about which he's been ashamed for a number of years.

It may give the impression that there's something wrong with being gay in the first place.

You're right about a different time and another era, JustinO. Back when I was a kid, there was no gay movement. As far as I was concerned, gay didn't exist. Therefore, there was nothing to be worried about.

JustinO'Shea said...

Same for me. . .when I was 4 yo I have my first 'crush; on another kid named...yeah...named Peter. . .lol
I thought, looking back, it was normal and it was.

In first grade I found out boys don't hold theit partner's hand when the teacher has us all lined up for the trip to the playground. . .Roger gave me that withering look. . in 1st grade, mind you!

I never got beat up or bullyied. . I guess. . if so I don't recall it. Cuz I watched what others did and "fit in". . ..

Gary, do you think we've made too much of it. . ? Are boys in the lower grades. . before puberty. . that macho? I don't remember much of that before early teens or so. .


Gary Kelly said...

Do I think we've made too much of being gay? Gay Pride? The Mardi Gras? Coming out? Very good question, JustinO, and I'd be interested to read comments from others.

Gary Kelly said...

In other words, is being gay a big deal because gays have made it so?

GreginAdelaide said...

" being gay a big deal because gays have made it so?"

Hmmm....Gary, that's a VERY good question indeed.

But first let me comment on a statement you made earlier in this thread:-
"I suspect the problem with making a big deal about coming out, from the perspective of "normal" society, is that a person is finally admitting to something about which he's been ashamed for a number of years."

That has to be a very important point.
How do the dreaded "others" see us?
Is "coming out" and "making a big deal" of it just adding to the problem?
Are soome of "us" innocently feeding, perpetuating the attitudes we wish to change?

I think so, to a large extent.

But having said that, how the hell can "we" hope to change society's attitudes by being quiet?
Quiet or loud?
Out or In?
As I see it, we are damned if we do and damned if we don't.

I think this first question is more important than your last.....and for the record, I think the answer to that one was yes ... and no.

JustinO'Shea said...

Excellent post, Greg. I suspect we have. . . .
In second year college I was talking with a long-time friend whom I hadn't seen since high school. . One of things I brought up is I am gay., etc.
He got a tad agitated and blurted out: "So you're gay. . .Why do all you gays have to make such a big deal about it?"

That is the last time I saw my friend. He dropped me like a weapon of mass destruction! I think my saying it out loud threatened him. .cuz we'd shared a few "Continental
Breakfasts". . .lol. . [a 'roll in bed with honey' ]

It's that old idea: as long as you don't name it then it's cool. Name it. . .bye bye. So I wonder if we've made too much about the OUT thing.

[Oh Oh. . now, do I have to turn in my official OUT GAY CARD ? . . . LOL]