We’ve had about 36 hours to digest the news that Don Lemon is gay. Across the web, everyone’s talking about it...
“CNN News Anchor Comes out of the Closet”. Type that phrase into your search engine. See how many times it comes up. It’s a whole lot of closet.
A human being has demonstrated a human trait. In doing so, he has inspired vocabulary-deficient writers from London to LA to dust off the world’s most woefully hackneyed item of furniture. We’re clearly not ready to dismantle it quite yet.
The discussion must therefore continue. And that discussion is proving riling and refreshing in equal measure.
Here’s one side. Lemon’s sexuality should not be a big deal. It shouldn’t even be anyone’s business. And, most irksome of all, it’s a tiny part of who this man is.
Here’s the other. Being a respected figure in an influential position, Lemon can press for change where change is needed. He can wage war on the ignorance that extends to the world’s banner writers. He says he wants to prevent more deaths in the vein of Tyler Clementi’s. That snippet should have been the headline.
Granted, in terms of accepting homosexuality as a fact rather than a decision, the western world has taken unbelievable strides since my own childhood. But a few unsavory tweets in the aftermath of the Lemon statement give a sense of how far we have left to go. Some would-be opinion formers sought to link the revelation to financial gain or chalk it down to Lemon’s abuse as a child. Frankly, I hope they lost followers.
The NBA attracted yet more blinkered (and downright odious) online reaction to its well-intentioned public service announcement on Sunday, advising kids not to equate the word “gay” with “stupid”. But even the hypothetical success of that campaign would have limited value. Word selection is fad-driven and regularly subconscious. (Consider how many times the average British or American teen prefaces words with “like”, and consider how often they’re even aware they’re doing it.) It'll probably pass.
Beating bad habits is one thing. But bona fide education about the truths of homosexuality is something else entirely – and recent events in Tennessee demonstrate just what a minefield that can be.
As long as we live in a world where being gay is something either to hide or to shout from the rooftops, we’re on a hiding to nothing. Pop culture phenomenon “Glee” has been widely praised for introducing the character Kurt to the world. He’s had his battles and he’s consistently overcome them with a combination of guts, girl-pals and an effectively sharp tongue. His progress is irrefutably positive for a young audience to behold. A shame, then, that his flamboyance and drama queen antics are a far cry from the true experience of many a homosexual teen.
Why must we create such drama around the gay conversation? It’s polarizing and it’s counter-productive.
(Not convinced? Well, I certainly can't imagine Lady Gaga's appearance at the Maine DADT rally sent many Republicans on the path to repeal.)
Don Lemon has said what he wanted to say with calmness and dignity. And yet the clichés entrenched in the ensuing commentary were as puerile as they were predictable. Until public figures can simply pick sexual partners according to their DNA – and don’t have to come out of a media-constructed closet in order to do so – how can we have any confidence that the ignorance-borne tragedy of Rutgers University won’t be repeated?
Catch News Stream with Kristie Lu Stout weekdays at 9pm HKT/ 1pm GMT / 8am ET on CNN International.