One of the powerful things about journalists being open about their sexual orientation and gender identity is that it allows them to open up their lives in ways a closeted journalist couldn’t. That idea was brought home in this Creative Loafing-Atlanta story on CNN’s Don Lemon where we get Wyatt William’s glimpse into Lemon’s home life.
Don Lemon is not quite ready. It’s noon and the 45-year-old anchor is standing at the door of his Virginia-Highland home in pin-striped pajama pants and a loose white tee. In five hours, he will be wearing a designer suit and tie, his face airbrushed, looking into a camera and discussing the capture of Muammar Gaddafi’s son live with an international correspondent reporting from Libya. He’s not there yet.
“Ben is still here,” he hollers as he walks down the hallway to his bathroom. “You can talk to him.” Lemon is referring to Ben Tinker, a CNN producer he’s been dating for a few years. Though his friends and co-workers were already well aware that Lemon is gay, he only came out publicly earlier this year, around the same time he published a memoir, Transparent.
The book isn’t a trophy case of big catches, as some journalists’ memoirs are, but something closer to a coming-of-age story. His childhood in Port Allen, La., in the late ’60s and ’70s was complicated. His father was married to a woman other than his mother and died when Lemon was 9. He was sexually abused by an older neighbor. He took some time coming to terms with his sexuality. In part, the point for Lemon in telling all of this is to explain that nothing good came of keeping secrets. He argues convincingly for transparency, in his life as well as his work.
. . .
While Lemon gets dressed, Tinker hangs around in the living room for a few minutes, chatting about his recent move to Atlanta from New York. Art of all sorts — paintings, photographs, collages — adorns the walls. A beautiful Thornton Dial monograph sits prominently on the coffee table. Tinker is friendly, sweet even, but not very interested in being interviewed. In an industry like television, where one is either in front of the camera or behind it, Tinker clearly prefers the latter. Lemon, arriving back in the living room, is obviously the former.
He’s now wearing a pressed white shirt open at the collar and tucked into slacks with black, sharp-looking shoes. He has a full, masculine build and a commanding presence that puts one in mind of a politician. In person, his smooth, cream-in-coffee complexion looks as flawless at home as it does under layers of television makeup. His smile is striking. It is not an overstatement to say that his clear eyes literally glitter in the sunlight.
It’s strange how often Lemon’s looks and appearance are discussed in the story–which is, ironically, highly critical of the superficiality of TV news–but I do love the glimpse in to Lemon’s domestic life.
That wouldn’t have happened a year ago. And it doesn’t happen for many journalists who are very visible, yet no open about being LGBT.
It’s also intriguing to read what Lemon has to say about his “role” at CNN and the truth-telling that comes from being an African American gay man.
When asked what typecast role CNN intends for him to play, what type of anchor he’s expected to be, Lemon pauses. He winces. “I think they want me to be the good-looking black guy. That’s what I think. I don’t know.” He talks about not knowing how his book might affect his career, how coming out and being critical could play into that. At one point he says, “I don’t know what will happen when my contract comes up.” He thinks about it for a minute and says, “People want to have a box to put you in and I don’t fit in anyone’s box.”
For what it’s worth, that statement seems to ring true for Lemon. It’s easy to assume that a gay black guy like Lemon is a diehard liberal, until the moment in his book when he gushes about Ronald Reagan or recalls his time involved with Young Republicans in college. He even has plenty of kind words to say about Bill O’Reilly. Maybe those things are something of a put-on; he certainly skews liberal at times. Ultimately, Lemon’s not interested in giving anyone the answers they want to hear, “I’m not concerned with what people think of me,” he says. “I mean, I’m a gay black guy. If I can’t ask questions without caring what people think of me, who can?”
“News people are human. They have backgrounds, they have certain lenses, they have certain filters. I don’t believe any newsperson should be ideological or partisan. I think you should always seek to point out the truth and if something is bullshit, it’s bullshit.”