Don Lemon: ‘I’m already ‘the black guy’ on CNN. I don’t think being known as gay is bad.’

By Gail Shister Comment

CNN's Don Lemon appears on Joy Behar's HLN show Monday.

CNN’s Don Lemon, a high-tech whiz, still appreciates the power of print.

That’s why he was jonesing for a hard copy of yesterday’s New York Times, in which he came out publicly, despite having read the online version hours earlier. One small problem – he was stuck on the tarmac in Atlanta, waiting to take off for New York.

The delay lasted almost four hours. Lemon missed several scheduled bookings, including ‘The View,’ to promote his new memoir, ‘Transparent.’ It’s due out June 16.

One of the pilots overheard Lemon on his cell bemoaning the situation, and offered to go back into the terminal and buy the Times. Lemon gave him $20 for five copies. The pilot came back with change. Voila – lemonade from, well, lemons.

“I like having print in my hands,” says Lemon, 45, CNN’s prime-time weekend anchor since 2006 . “I wanted to see it. It’s the New York Times! I wanted to have a copy.”

A friend had emailed him Bill Carter’s piece while Lemon was on the air Sunday night. (He read it during a commercial break, Lemon says.) After getting the OK from his book publicist, he sent a tweet to his 89,805 followers with a link to the story. Lemon thanked them for their support.

He expected some buzz, he says, but not the tidal wave that followed. He received “thousands” of tweets and Facebook posts, and the story was trending worldwide on Twitter, he says.

“I had no idea it would hit this big,” says Lemon. “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.”

In the fall, Lemon disclosed on CNN that he had been sexually abused at age six. (He wasn’t able to tell his mother until he was 30.) Because he waited to acknowledge his sexuality until writing the memoir, does he worry that some may assume he’s gay because he was the victim of a pederast?

“It has nothing to do with it,” he says evenly. “This happens to be my personal journey, my history. You have to be really naïve, or looking for an excuse, to equate the two. Most predators prey on children of the opposite sex.” Lemon says he has no interest in confronting his abuser.

Knocking down another possible assumption, Lemon says 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 doesn’t want to discuss his boyfriend of four years, a CNN producer based in New York. “I’ll talk about it another time,” Lemon says. “He says this is my time. He’s very supportive. He’s been out since he was 14.”

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,” he says. “In college [Brooklyn 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.”