Why Don Lemon Came Out

The CNN anchor and former NBC10 reporter revealed his homosexuality this weekend—despite protests from those closest to him

CNN weekend anchor Don Lemon, who came out to the world yesterday via the New York Times, was in the closet and miserable when he worked at NBC10 in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s.

“It was like this gnawing pain that wouldn’t go away,” Lemon, 45, recalls. “It was always there, in the back of your head. You’re worried you’re going to be exposed, and from that exposure you’ll suffer some sort of injury to your person or your career. People would try to use it against you.”

Lemon addresses his sexuality in his new memoir, “Transparent,” due out June 16. He also writes about having been the victim of a pederast at age six. He couldn’t tell his mother about it until he was 30.

During his NBC10 hitch, the baby-faced Lemon, a former model, was out to his friends, but never discussed his sexuality in the newsroom, he says. In fact, his coworkers thought he was such a raging, red-blooded hetero, they all wanted to play yenta.

“Everybody would try to set me up with their daughter or cousin or someone they knew,” says Lemon. “People thought I was going out with some girls in the newsroom. Eventually, those closest to me started to figure it out.”

Sexuality was the least of Lemon’s worries here. In 2001, he alleged that racial profiling led to his being “assaulted” by a Tower Records security guard in Center City. According to a civil suit later filed by Lemon, the guard accused him of having shoplifted a CD player that Lemon had, in fact, bought.

Back to CNN. When Lemon was on the air late Sunday night, a friend emailed him the internet version of the Times piece in which he came out. (He read it during a commercial break, he says.) After getting the OK from his book publicist, he tweeted his 89,805 followers with a link to the story and thanked them for their support.

Lemon expected some buzz from the story, he says, but not the tidal wave that followed. He received “thousands” of tweets and Facebook hits, he says, and CNN told him the story was trending worldwide on Twitter. He was booked on “The View” and Joy Behar’s HLN show.

“I had no idea it would hit this big,” says Lemon, based in Atlanta. “When I look at the reaction, I’m ready for it. I don’t have to believe my own press. Just by saying the words and admitting it, that’s enough. I don’t have to be an advocate for anyone. “

Many people, including his agent, had advised Lemon against coming out, he explains. “They said, ‘Do you want to be known as ‘the gay anchor?’ Well, I’m already ‘the black guy’ on CNN. I don’t think being known as gay is bad.” Lemon’s boyfriend of four years is a New York-based CNN producer.

Despite the coincidental timing, Lemon swears he’s not coming out to publicize his book. “This is part of my story. It would be more disingenuous to write a memoir just to include those things. There is a certain deception in omission.

“I’ve never been ashamed of who I am. Ever. I know I’m a good person, and I don’t hurt people. I’m not naïve. I know the consequences of coming out. I really became ready when I started the book. I can’t think of five high-profile African Americans who have come out.”

Lemon dedicates “Transparent” to Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers freshman who committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington bridge after his sexual encounter with a man in his dorm room was streamed live on the web.

“I am him,” Lemon says softly. “In college, I was always in fear of someone finding out.”

Now that everyone knows, “I can just continue to be a good journalist and a good citizen,” says Lemon. “I can keep moving forward.”