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Don Lemon, Coming Out and the Lingering Nature of Transphobia

Last October a Rutgers University first year student named Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge to commit suicide. Tyler was not the first (nor the last) student to commit such a horrid act due to homophobia. The problem in this situation was not just one person who was bullying Tyler, but the real issue is nestled into a culture of homophobia that still lingers in high school and college hallways.

Two days ago Don Lemon, CNN Broadcaster came out of the closet. In his new book “Transparency” Don writes about what it was like growing up as a black gay man. In an interview with Joy Behar he explains how he was even struggling with the choice to include this subject in his new book. What solidified his decision was Tyler Clementi’s suicide.

In the interview Lemon explains how he wished he had someone to look up to when he was younger, “someone who lived their life out and proud.” He goes on to say that “It is important to live your own truth in your own life, all you have to do is keep moving, stay in the game, and stay alive.”

It is moments like this that really shape the lives of young people who are struggling with their sexuality. Don Lemon declaring his sexuality to the world is a huge moment for the LGBTQ community and specifically the queer community of color. This is an example of how things are getting better. However, the fact that Don was hesitant to come out and nervous about the reaction of the public is a testament to just how difficult this situation remains for black men (and just people in general) who have not come out yet.

Don Lemon argues that “In black culture, the worst thing you can be is a gay black man.” He continues on to say, “I was born gay, just as I was born black.” Don was preaching to the choir as he outlined the reason behind his hesitation in coming out.

I am elated and inspired that Don chose to be “transparent,” but I fear that one comment he made might further influence the transphobia that lurks inches behind the homophobia that gay and lesbian individuals experience. Don explains that homophobia in the black community comes from the idea that “If your gay, you are not a man, or you are effeminate, or weaker.” Don then goes on to proclaim how he himself is not effeminate and not weak.  My only push back is: if you are effeminate does that make you weak? This fetishism with manhood in the black community irks me.  I think it is great that a black gay public figure can build up enough courage to come out, but not if it means getting the general public to think being gay is okay only when the stipulation of masculinity is attached to it.

I looked backed at my “It gets better video” yesterday and was drawn to tears. Since I published it on youtube, my grandmother has actually watched it, and said she still loves me. How is that for progress. Thank you Don Lemon, simply for your open honesty. It is important to erase the pattern of invisibility within the LGBTQ community toward the general public. The more we are seen, (not just the L and G, but the T also), the more we can continue to see how things are getting better.


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