Why Don Lemon's coming out matters

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With the recent rash LGBT teen suicides and a regular pattern of hypocritical preachers or politicians being outed monthly, sexuality is a constant hot topic in the media. In this environment, it’s getting more challenging for public figures to stay in the closet without their conscious haunting them.

This weekend, CNN anchor and award-winning journalist, Don Lemon, announced that he was gay in a New York Times article, which highlighted his memoir, Transparent, in stores June 16th.

Lemon is one of the most visible African-American journalists today. He is the first black, mainstream journalist on a major network to publicly announce he is gay. The reason he came out? The Emmy winner explained, “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.”

Reactions flooded social media. Lemon received many positive responses and a tweet from him read: “I’m overwhelmed by all your tweets and support!” However, on black media outlets the reaction wasn’t as warm. On the popular gossip site TheYBF.com, one comment said, “I am so sad right now. My little brother just came out. He is so attractive and has everything going for him … As for you Mr Lemon I DO WANT TO PRAY THE GAY AWAY! Prayer works, I pray for my brother every day.”

From theGrio Facebook page, one reader ranted: “this gay stuff is getting ridiculous…i cant support this i dont care if he black either.he another victim of molestation.” Lemon has made it clear that being sexually assaulted had nothing to do with his sexual orientation (the American Academy of Pediatrics agrees). Every ten or so comments there is a positive response like this: “Good job Don! Maybe we can help to move the black ppl view of gay out of the stone ages.”

There are a handful of openly gay, high-profile journalists on television, such as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Thomas Roberts — but they are white. The Baton Rouge native told the New York Times, “It’s quite different for an African-American male. 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.”

Although Lemon has represented black views and politics quite effectively on CNN and other networks, sections of the black community, his own people, might be his most abusive critics. Thankfully, that possibility didn’t stop him. But that wasn’t the only outing of the day. Former Villanova basketball player Will Sheridan recently admitted that he is gay. Sheridan said, “I’m just at a point where someone else can learn from my experience.”

For an Emmy-winning journalist and a college basketball player to admit they are gay is extremely poignant for the black community. Especially in a time where religious figures like Bishop Eddie Long raged over homosexuality yet allegedly had sexual relations with young men. Or, Donnie McClurkin who once said, “I’m not in the mood to play with those who are trying to kill our children” and claims he is an “ex-gay.”

There is civil war in the black community, between the “stone age” and the “future.” The “stone age”: The trite, media-hyped lie of “down low” black men or the flamboyant, church queens who are the heartbeat of the black church yet closeted. The “future”: Shifts in consciousness that black gays are padded with diversity and breaking out of the closet, ignoring the paranoia of, “What will my own people think of me?”

To be fair, Lemon nor Sheridan have the prominent influence in the black community to shift sexual politics. Nonetheless, every little bit counts. Hopefully, their stories will be an inspiration for those who have the influence. For example, there are particular rap legends and high profile actors and directors who can shift the thinking about gays in the black community.

To those rappers, actors and directors: Isn’t it exhausting to frantically dance around “the question” in every on-camera moment? Isn’t it tiresome to play the pronoun game in interviews? Do you have any idea the lives you might change? Not everyone is an activist, but just speaking your truth can move a few archaic mountains.

One thing I know for sure is that there are thousands of young people, black men specifically, who will see Don Lemon, an anchor for “the most trusted name in news” and be inspired. Hopefully, they will hate themselves a little less, love themselves a little more and the blows from the black church will not hit as hard.