May 17th, 2011
05:29 PM ET

Don Lemon's Dignity Must Set Example for Media at Large

[cnn-video url="http://cnn.com/video/?/video/living/2011/05/16/behar.don.lemon.hln"%5D

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?

  • NB – Don Lemon's upcoming memoir "Transparent" features the full disclosure referred to in this article.
soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Josefina

    HOOOOORAY! Great article on a positive subject! It is truly amazing that this has to BE a story at all, Don Lemon's life and integrity have been a true example of professionalism at its best and I for one, needn't know about his sexuality however, now that I do, I send him props for BEING that professional. Thanks for the article and the sensitivity with which you handled this!

    May 17, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Reply
  2. Michael

    Thanks for your comments. The only thing I will disagree with is, "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. "

    I agree it should not be a big deal. However, sexuality is a gigantic, and powerful integrated part of everyone's identity. It influences the way we walk in the world every minute we're alive.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Reply
  3. Harry

    Hello Don, sorry your producer special friend beat me to the punch. (smile) You have brightened many of my days recently. CNN and the world is a better place haven had you. Soar on Kid you deserve it. I am certain I will need multiple copies of your new book, Transparent. You display such poise humor and grace. How refreshing. Finally here's to all the success coming your way. Soar some more. You know when your stellar moment came? It was the segment you did on women's hats Eater-time this year. That segemnt was packed with humor and love. You are quite a guy. Don't forget my city during your world/book tour. You also deserve all the accolades. So smile some more. May God keep blessing you. Signed, a fan,a friend named Harry.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Reply
  4. Richard

    Professional, transparent, and living who he is as a human. I empathize with all those that struggle with "coming out". I did the same, and once I got there found I had so much more to offer as a whole person.

    Go Don Lemon, Congrats, you are great

    May 17, 2011 at 7:33 pm | Reply
  5. Jim

    Don Lemon has moved the gay community another step towards acceptance. As he states he was born gay. He did not have a choice in the matter the genetics were decided by nature before he or myself came out of our Mother's womb. It was very hard being gay in the 60's, 70's, a little easier in the 80's, and more in the 90's but the new century will find more and more people coming out at an earlier age and someday it will be what we deem normal. I was terrified to let family and friends know that I was gay. I feared losing them if they ever knew. Well, my family still loves me and the true friends stuck by me. Thank You Don Lemon for another step forward as this will lead to more steps forward.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Reply
  6. maureen

    It didn't matter to me before and it doesn't matter to me now.

    Don Lemon is a man of integrity and professionalism.

    I tune in to CNN news to listen to him report the news... not to sleep with him................

    May 17, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Reply
  7. Scott B

    Congratulations Mr. Lemon, I'm a gay man who has had a crush on you for quite some time, so it's extra nice to hear that my chances have moved from zero percent to one percent. Seriously, your announcement - especially given who you are, your integrity and the quality of work you do - gives hope to a lot of young scared gay boys....for them (and for plenty of adults lacking accurate information) to hear such a well-informed person say he was born gay - carries a lot of weight....so congratulations AND thanks! -Respectfully, Scott B

    May 17, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Reply
  8. Marie

    Now it all makes sense! He was sexually abused and fatherless. If you take a poll of gay men, you will find that most have had traumatic childhoods. Also, professing to be gay and coming out just before the book does is sad, but smart. I guess we will all run to the bookstore now.

    May 18, 2011 at 12:51 am | Reply
  9. Ross Weintraub

    Congrats to Don.

    May 18, 2011 at 2:09 am | Reply
  10. Homa Heikkila

    Dear Don

    I am glad you were able to feel safe enough to come out. You are wonderful and have always been wonderful. I am an old lady and I don't have a problem at all with knowing you are gay. This is not going to change anything at all and I wish more people would come out so that the bias would melt away. Good luck, young man!

    May 18, 2011 at 2:28 am | Reply
  11. Homa Heikkila

    I only wish more people would do what Don did. Stop worrying about how other will think of you. There are a lot of people who will understand and support you and if they don't FOUIEE on them!

    May 18, 2011 at 2:30 am | Reply
  12. AG

    why do you think its ok to love another man? That makes no sense. All of the beautiful women and you choose men. Wow, I used to respect you, now Im not going to watch your show. Knowing it has a gay bias and all. And why is everybody congratulating this man? He is doing something wrong and its wrong in all religions and if youre athiest its biologically wrong too. Smh........

    May 18, 2011 at 2:53 am | Reply
  13. Mark Jesuroga

    I always watched your show and appreciated the humor and intelligence with which you presented your subject matter. I only hope you have a book signing in my area. Your coming out on CNN took courage and I too believe this is only one facet of your being. I will look forward to the weekends when I can continue to watch your show. Mark

    May 18, 2011 at 4:08 am | Reply
  14. Grandmother Dawn Sky Weaver

    Don lemon is my hero. He called Donald Trump on his stuff in a good way. He let Trump know that calling people of color "the Blacks" is prejudice and bigotry, as is suggesting that our President a Black man could not have graduated at the top of his law school class without something being wrong. Other President cannot say they graduated at the top of their class, no need to; no one has questioned it until now. Being black or any other race does not mean you are not smart. Don Lemon brought these issues out on National TV and all Trump could say was I am not wrong in my words. We heard very little from Trump after that and this week Trump decided not to run for President of All Americans. You go Don Lemon! Aroha Nui/Much Love GMDSW

    May 18, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  15. Supporter

    Seems like a nice guy. I agree that it's long overdue for people to come out and help. The worst part is that people think they are alone, and they are not. My guess is that you will help save lives.

    May 18, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Reply
  16. Glenn Stokes

    It depends on where you live, but in general, I get the feeling that, even in social circles that do not approve of same-sex relationships, people are starting to realize that hatred, bigotry, discrimination, homophobia, bullying, denial of rights etc. are unacceptable behavior which can not be condoned and people who engage in such behavior are the ones who need to be shunned and ostracized.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Reply
  17. Larry Lare Nelson

    Thanks for doing the article on Don Lemon. A suggest here to all media:
    Gay is always capitalized. To not do so diminishes us.
    Thank you

    May 18, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Reply
  18. Dave, Los Angeles, CA

    Marie- that's a stereotype. Also- after listening to Mr Lemon explain why he decided to come out – just before the book- makes perfect sense; the information is going to be out in the world so might as well speak to any criticism before that when he can do it on his own terms and not be reacting defensively to any negative comments about his character after the fact

    May 18, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Reply
  19. Scott B

    Larry N: I humbly propose u not allow the use of a lower case letter to diminish you. The word "gay" with no initial caps beats the heck out of the "F" word that rhymes with maggot. It, too, has no power to diminish unless we give it. Each of us is the author of our own response to any written or uttered word or other action. We can be diminished only if we give permission (= we decide we are diminished). Don't give away your power so fast. -Respectfully, Scott B

    May 18, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Reply
  20. Big Al

    Larry Nelson, for you to demand that the word "gay" be capitalized is silly. It merely describes a lifestyle. Even if you say it's a form of gender it would not make any more sense. Are the words "male," or "female" capitalized?

    May 18, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Reply
  21. WhyThisStinks

    Oh yea, this is good. Using your position as a 'respected' journalist to forward an agenda. However, this IS CNN we are talking about.

    "...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..."

    May 18, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Reply
  22. tee

    Good for you Don...I hope you have found complete happiness.....you look great....I thought you were about 15 years younger....God is definitely blessing you.

    May 18, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Reply
  23. Odette, Round Rock, Texas

    Good for you! I applaud you Don for being honest and brave. Whatever makes you happy (and that applies to everyone). Tha'ts the most important thing. Whatever you do in your private life is nobody's business but yours alone. As long as you're doing your job in a right and dignified way, which you always have. I've been watching you on CNN and I knew, but I don't care. I watch the news and not the person who delivers them. For those critics out there, especially those ignorant homophobes, they need to grow up!

    Congrats and my best wishes in everything you do!

    May 19, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Reply
  24. Marv

    Applaud for what? I don't get what's the big deal about someone announcing their sexuality or preference. Things like this should be announce to their partner for full disclosure. What is he or any other gay person expecting from those who are not gay?

    All I want from Don is honest, informed news–not his sexuality. I'm offended at the fact that he's basically saying 'hey, I'm gay accept it'. Whereas, I rather view him as a CNN correspondent saying 'hey, here's today's news'. I just don't get it why gays feel they need to tell the world their sexual preferences/sexuality. What are they expecting?

    For example, now what or so what? He's gay! Okay, now what do I do? Does he now report any differently than before? Do I now hold him to a higher or lower standard because of his sexuality? I mean, what am I suppose to do with that news bit? Did I ask him about his sexuality? Too much damn information if you asked me.

    May 19, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Reply
  25. koko


    May 21, 2011 at 6:32 am | Reply
  26. Moses

    Hi Don. This is a real pity. I know the comments on this story, on this website have been a bunch of Hoorays and hand-clapping. I disagree, I don't think this is something to be proud of, and certainly not something you've been born with. The majority of biologists -not all- disagree that gays are born. The claim/belief that you were born gay is scientifically false, and lacks credible evidence. Gays need treatment/rehabilitation. Many acquired this misbehaviour owing to abnormal childhood experiences such as the widespread child abuse by Catholic Church Priests that has only surfaced in recent years. I am not saying this is what brings it about in all gays, probably not you and probably a good percentage of those abused in their childhood do not necessarily become gay either but again a good number do.
    Whatever triggered it in your case, my professional opinion is you need treatment. But like in the case of smokers and many other psychological aberrations, the person involved must first admit -at least to himself- that he/she has a problem and needs -out of his/her own accord- genuine professional psychiatric help.

    May 27, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Reply
  27. Realist

    The problem with your argument, Moses, is that you make the assumption that something is wrong with Don Lemon. Smoking may kill. Psychological aberrations probably will scar. But Don is happy with what he is and what he has. He is doing neither himself nor anybody else harm. Is it so very wrong that other people might want to be happy for him? Psychiatrists have enough genuine problems to deal with...

    May 27, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Reply
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    May 30, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Reply
  29. Skeeter Sanders

    As a fellow African-American broadcast personality (I host a smooth jazz/R&B radio show in Vermont), I am relieved to know that I am no longer alone in being "out of the closet" with CNN Anchor Don Lemon having come out in his new book.

    Unlike Lemon, however, I've been "out" for more than 30 years, having been a reporter and columnist at two gay-community newspapers (One in San Francisco in the '80s, the other in Vermont in the late '90s) before going mainstream with my radio show and a now-defunct online column, which ran for five years until I closed it in February.

    Whereas Lemon is gay, I am bisexual. I'm married - and yes, I'm "out" to my wife and in-laws; nothing "on the down low" about me.

    Congratulations, Don. Other than that minority on the far right of the religious and social spectrum who will hate you (Especially that wacko cult from Topeka, Kansas that shall remain nameless), the reaction to your coming out is likely to be more positive than negative.

    Honesty really IS the best policy.

    May 30, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Reply
  30. Kasim

    British FA exaggerate the issue because they failed to get 2018 world cup. As an African from Ghana, we are behind Sepp Blatter. He is our champion, he gave smaller countries a voice in football. Mr. Blatter Africa and the rest of the smaller countries say THANK YOU!!!!!.


    Nagoya Japan.

    June 1, 2011 at 9:50 pm | Reply
  31. Apostar on line

    Great post. Thanks for the nice read

    August 2, 2011 at 5:01 am | Reply
  32. Perk

    Live and let live ! Be who you are and want to be ! How would Mr. Lemons feel about a horse beamed into his live coverage to support http://www.humanesociety.org ? Support S1176 & HR 2966. No Horse Slaughtering In America For Human Consumption ! "Down Home Shake Down" iboogie on call Congress and your Senators !

    December 15, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Reply
  33. truth365

    Don it doesn't matter how much effort you and your friends put into discrediting a church and slandering it's congregation. Even if you burn the church to the ground with it's people in it, God's word still stands. homosexuality is a sin before God. Your broken sexuality is not more important than your salvation. Choose life. Repent and sin no more.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Reply
  34. Miley

    umm.. why is everything about this guy alyaws about him being gay? when does he or the media ever discuss anything else but that fact? He's gay, so what? millions of people are gay, more have been, and more will be for ages to come. Can we now finally talk about things that really define who they are as person? oh well, we're getting there one step at a time

    September 8, 2012 at 2:25 am | Reply
  35. Franz Hinner

    As I did not know your work until late, but have really started to appreciate the honesty, integrity and the identify what is wrong and make a plan to fix it attitude. Love your no talking points pieces and they are frankly a guilty pleasure. I also commend you for talking about your sexual orientation and frankly have to say we as a society should not even have people "come out", it depends on the persons character and integrity what we think about them. Whom they love is in my perspective not a qualifying criteria and as I think you are saying not a choice, we are just made a certain way. So thank you for your calm, intelligent, honest and to the point work, good for you that you can stand up and talk about your sexuality with the same integrity!

    August 12, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Reply

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