CNN anchor Don Lemon and Phoenix Suns President/CEO Rick Welts both opened up to The New York Times this weekend about a subject they’d avoided publicly until now: They are gay.
The men’s coming out stories highlight some public figures’ increasing willingness to speak openly about their orientation as LGBT equality faces a challenging, yet promising future in the nation’s political and cultural landscape.
According to the Associated Press, “Welts talked to NBA commissioner David Stern, WNBA president Val Ackerman, Hall of Famer Bill Russell and Suns guard Steve Nash before discussing his sexual orientation with a reporter from the Times, the newspaper said. All of them offered Welts their support.”
In the Times article, Welts cited a desire to help the culture of professional sports evolve on the issue of sexual orientation.
“This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits,” the Suns executive said. “Nobody’s comfortable in engaging in a conversation.”
The Associated Press also reports that, “Welts is one of the most prominent figures active in sports to openly declare that he is gay, although there has yet to be an active player in the NBA, Major League Baseball or the NFL to make such a statement. Some athletes have done so after their playing careers.”
CNN’s Don Lemon discussed his new book, Transparent, with The Times, in which he admits his fear that coming out could adversely affect his career as a television reporter. Lemon, who is African American, also touched upon issues of homophobia within the black community and how he was sexually abused as a child.
“I’m scared,” Lemon told The Times. “I’m talking about something that people might shun me for, ostracize me for … It’s quite different for an African-American male. It’s about the worst thing you can be in black culture. You’re taught you have to be a man; you have to be masculine.”
Like Welts, Lemon believes increased visibility of accomplished openly gay professionals can help pave the path of acceptance for others, particularly youth, struggling with their sexual orientation.
“I think it would be great if everybody could be out,” he said. “But it’s such a personal choice. People have to do it at their own speed. I respect that. I do have to say that the more people who come out, the better it is for everyone, certainly for the Tyler Clementis of the world.”
Lemon released the following statement on Monday morning:
Using Ascot Media and Aston Publicity Groups’ innovative announcement tool ‘In My Own Words’ (IMOW) as the vehicle in which to speak out and put an end to the speculation surrounding him, Don Lemon is making an official statement to the media that he is gay.
The statement below was written by Don Lemon and it may be copied, printed and announced but cannot be altered in any way without the express permission of Don Lemon.
“Today I chose to step out on faith and begin openly living my own truth. And let me say right up front that I hope many of you will be inspired to do the same thing in your daily lives. Some of the things I’ve chosen to reveal in my book Transparent were very difficult to share with even those closest to me.
There was a time when I was terrified of revealing these things to the person I love most in this world – my own mother. But when I finally mustered the courage to tell her that I had been molested as a child and that I was born gay, my life began to change in positive ways that I never imagined possible. Yet I still chose to keep those secrets hidden from the world. I, like most gay people, lived a life of fear. Fear that if some employers, co-workers, friends, neighbors and family members learned of my sexuality, I would be shunned, mocked and ostracized. It is a burden that millions of people carry with them every single day. And sadly, while the mockery and ostracizing are realized by millions of people every day, I truly believe it doesn’t have to happen and that’s why I feel compelled to share what I’ve written in Transparent.
As a journalist I believe that part of my mission is to shed light onto dark places. So, the disclosure of this information does not inhibit in any way my ability to be the professional, fair and objective journalist I have always been.
My book is dedicated to the memory of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who jumped to his death from a bridge after his dorm mates streamed his private business over the Internet for the world to see. Tyler might still be with us today if more gay men and women had chosen to live proudly and openly. It is also dedicated to the millions of young, gay people who believe they are alone when dealing with their own sexual identities. You are not alone! There are people, like me and many others, who are thriving in their personal and professional lives and although we sometimes have a hard time with it ourselves, we are here to show you by example that you too can overcome any obstacle as long as you stay strong and, most of all, stay alive.
With love and honesty,
May 16, 2011