CNN anchor/reporter Don Lemon, who lives in Virginia Highland, spent weeks wondering whether he should come out as a gay man in his book “Transparent.”
He had it in his original transcript but had the option of taking it out. Then last fall, Tyler Clementi, a closeted gay college student, killed himself after a roommate posted online a sexual encounter he had with a man.
That sealed it for Lemon: “I left it in there.”
Response, he said, has been “99.9 percent” positive and he feels happier than he ever has: “I’m lighter and freer. It makes me better on air. I’m not trying to hide anything.”
Now friends jokingly say, “You’re Don Lemon: gay icon!”
Meet him at Outwrite Books, the gay bookstore in Midtown, Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. where he’ll sign his book for you.
He said he was never in the closet. He just never talked about it publicly. But he realizes now that “there are so few people who are out in broadcast news journalism. And if you break it out to African Americans, it’s even fewer. I don’t even know any.”
“I write about it in the book matter of factly,” he added. “It’s important to do that. For that, it doesn’t have to be an announcement. The more people come out, we should celebrate it. It makes it normal. I want it to be normal.”
Lemon, 45, who has been with CNN for five years as a weekend anchor and weekday reporter, was approached a couple of years ago by publisher Farrah Gray to write a book after Gray saw him at a panel about black men in the age of Obama. Lemon said no. Then he changed his mind. “I was doing the same thing people do to me when they want me out of their face and aren’t interested,” he said. “Okay, fine. I’ll do it.”
When he began writing it, he thought, “We don’t need another book like this.” But once he got through his childhood near Baton Rouge, he felt more comfortable. And he had a bombshell in the book, which he ended up inadvertently revealing on air last fall.
While talking about the Bishop Eddie Long case, a guest said Long didn’t look like a pedophile. That’s when Lemon said that he had been abused as a child. That created a bit of a media storm because as an on-air anchor, revealing such a major revelation was highly unusual. Lemon said he felt it was relevant to the discussion at the time.
Coincidentally, Oprah Winfrey was seeking men who had been abused to show up in an episode and her producers asked him to be part of it. Lemon debated going to Chicago but in the end decided not to “I didn’t want it to appear as if I were capitalizing on that moment,” he said. But he did talk to Tyler Perry, who also had been physically abused as a child.
“Tyler was very apprehensive about it,” he said. “In some way, I encouraged him to do it. He asked me about the support I’ve had and I said it’s been overwhelmingly positive. He decided to do the show.”
While Lemon’s book is titled “Transparent,” he didn’t talk about his personal relationships, including his current boyfriend. “He wasn’t ready for it,” Lemon said. “I haven’t been afraid to talk about it. I didn’t leave it out because I’m ashamed or I didn’t want people to know about it. If I were writing the book now, I’d probably include him.”
At CNN, he enjoys the mix of work he gets to do, including anchoring, reporting and long-form documentary work. In the book, the self-proclaimed “workaholic” expressed pride about his 2009 Michael Jackson coverage, which was helped by his connections to people like Rev. Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson.
Down the road, he’d love to be a new version of Oprah. “Who wouldn’t want to have that power and freedom?” he said.
Don Lemon, “Transparent.”
Outwrite Books , 7:30 p.m., June 22, 2011
By Rodney Ho, firstname.lastname@example.org, AJCRadioTV blog