Don Lemon Talks Colorism and Coming Out

The anchor lives up to the name of his new memoir, Transparent, in a chat with The Root about the complexion of broadcast TV and being a black gay role model.

CNN anchor Don Lemon says black people need to give gay people a break.
(Getty Images)

The amount of self-disclosure in Don Lemon's new memoir may seem a bit unusual coming from a public figure, let alone a journalist, but it's all part of the transparency that he feels is crucial, especially for media professionals.

Last September, during an interview with members of Bishop Eddie Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga., Lemon shared that he was molested as a child. Lemon, 45, was 5 years old when a teenage neighbor began sexually abusing him. It continued for years, and Lemon, who wasn't the only victim, was 30 before he told his mother what had happened. Last month, while promoting his book, Transparent, Lemon publicly revealed that he is gay.

Although Lemon is usually the one asking the questions, The Root turned the tables on him in a recent interview about colorism in the media, black homophobia and how gay black men can be positive examples of manhood.

The Root: One topic you discuss in the opening chapter of your book is colorism (bias according to skin color). Do you see colorism in network news?

Don Lemon: Well, I do have eyes, and I do see that a lot of the anchors of color on television are light-skinned -- not all of them -- but a number of them are.

TR: There has been some chatter over the years about your employer, CNN, possibly having its own brown-paper-bag test for anchors' complexions.

DL: You will have to ask the people who hire the anchors that because I don't know that. When I look around the entire television landscape, I do see -- I don't know if it's lighting, I don't know if it's makeup -- there are many anchors of a lighter hue. I don't know where that comes from. I think that is part of our society. [But] there are some beautiful brown-skinned brothers and sisters on television.

Does CNN have a brown-paper-bag test? I think that's a good question for any person to ask. If that's something that you notice as a viewer, by all means pose that question to the powers that be.

 TR: How has the response been since you publicly revealed last September that you were a victim of molestation? 

DL: People were genuinely supportive. I've got [a] phone-book-size [folder of] responses from people who tweeted and emailed and texted and called and said, "You know what? I'm so glad you talked about that because it's something we don't talk about as a people." And in general, men don't want to talk about it, and people don't want to say it exists.