When Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts took off her wig on the air, I cried. I've never had breast cancer, and there's no history of it in my family, but seeing a fellow black female journalist — on such a high-profile morning show — bravely sharing her story filled me with admiration and respect. We had a connection. I could only imagine the connection she had with breast cancer sufferers and survivors who watched her on TV.
Breast cancer survivor Kerry Osborne blogged about standing in line for almost two hours to hear Roberts give a speech and sign her book. The highlight of that day, Osborne writes, was being able to share a message with Roberts: "I told her that the first thing my kids said about my diagnosis and losing my hair was, 'You're just like Robin.' She smiled and gave me a big hug."
CNN anchor Don Lemon also made a connection this week when he announced that he's gay. Lemon says he made the decision while writing his book Transparent, which started out as your basic inspiring "You can be better" book but turned into something more, he said, when he started to feel like a hypocrite for not telling his truth. So at 45 he decided to come out.
I posted his story on my Facebook page, along with a message of congratulations, thanks and support. About 40 people commented on my post, and there were some statements that gave me pause.
Some questioned the timing of his announcement and his upcoming book release. Others said they didn't care to hear whether or not he was gay. Another asked, "Do we really need to celebrate if someone comes out as gay?"
These types of comments are disturbing because it means that many people are still unaware of or numb to stories like Tyler Clementi's. He's the gay 18-year-old who killed himself after his roommate streamed over the Web hidden-camera video of Clementi's tryst with another man. After finding out what his roommate did, Clementi jumped off a bridge.
He's not the only one: Openly gay 19-year-old Raymond Chase hanged himself in his Rhode Island dorm room, as did 13-year-old Seth Walsh, whose family says he was constantly bullied for being gay. And there are countless more.
While many people may not see the significance of Lemon's announcement, he can now serve as a role model to a young teen out there feeling hopeless and alone.
Hopefully, Lemon will also help the black community develop more tolerance for gay people. He has the full support of employer CNN, but I can't help wondering what job security he would have if he had come out while working for a media company dedicated to a majority-black audience.
Many black people are quickly offended when accused of being homophobic. But it is what it is. Just ask yourself how many black, gay celebrities, politicians or other public figures you know. Far too many are afraid to come out for fear of ruining their careers — especially black men.
"It's quite different for an African-American male," Lemon told the New York Times. "It's about the worst thing you can be in the black culture. You're taught that you have to be a man; you have to be masculine."
To accuse Lemon of using his personal pain and struggles to heighten his fame or to become a best-selling author is limited thinking. Robin Roberts says that she initially didn't want to go public about having breast cancer, but her mother told her to "take her mess and make it her message." She realized that she could encourage more women to get checked and inspire women with the disease to be strong.
It took tremendous courage for Lemon to tell the world that he is gay. I believe his coming out is going to change lives for the better. For that, I would like to tell my colleague: Thank you.
"If I had seen more people like me who are out and proud," Lemon told the Times, "it wouldn't have taken me 45 years to say it." He dedicated his new book to the memory of Clementi.