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.
TR: What advice do you have for others who are dealing with having been sexually abused?
DL: A child should always tell — always. When you're an adult, the best way to move beyond it is to get it out. Whether it's a confidant, a therapist or someone at your church, or your significant other, talk about it and get it out because it frees you.
TR: How has the response been since you publicly came out as a gay man?
DL: At first it was like getting shot out of the cannon; you're like, oh, my gosh, what's happening? And then you don't really know how people are going to react. But it's been overwhelmingly positive. I feel free. I feel lighter and I'm happy.
TR: You also write about positive examples of black manhood, which some people believe is always under attack. Can black gay men be positive examples of black manhood?
DL: I am a black gay man who is a positive example of manhood. And there are other black gay men who are like me — who are thriving, healthy, happy, successful, who are centered, but many of them are afraid to come out because of questions like the one that you're asking.
Not that there is anything wrong with the question you're asking, because that's what people say. That's why people choose not to come out, and that's why we don't have a lot of examples of positive, black gay role models. Why can't I be [a] role model? Why do all role models have to be either an actor or an athlete or an entertainer?
DL: Black people know what it's like to be discriminated against. I wish that we would take the lead in supporting people who have been discriminated against rather than discriminating against them more. That's really my personal wish for the black community.
C'mon — we know; we've been there. Let's stand up with our gay brothers and sisters and help them out rather than pushing them. We're killing people by telling people — by telling kids — something is wrong with them, and/or that they're going to hell. You're damning them to a life of trouble. Or you're pushing them on a road to hurting themselves.
TR: You have shared on air that you were molested, and in your book you disclose more information about yourself. Do you think these kinds of confessionals complicate your job as a newsman?
DL: Some people will because everyone is looking for a target and everyone is always looking to criticize. But those things don't make me any less qualified than my having a mortgage and reporting on the mortgage crisis, or having investments and reporting on the stock market or the economy. It doesn't take away my brain.
If you're going to have those feelings about me because I am gay or I was molested as a child, then are you going to hold every single person to that? Are we going to have journalists who have no experience in life? When you have those experiences, it enhances your ability to empathize and gives you information about stories that other people may not have. I think it actually helps you be a better journalist.