Out of the Closet, but Still in a Black Box

GLAAD's senior media field strategist discusses the significance in the African-American community of Don Lemon’s “coming out.”

Posted: 05/19/2011 09:13 AM EDT

Just weeks before the release of his book Transparent, CNN anchor Don Lemon publically revealed that he is homosexual on Monday. Though being homosexual has become more socially acceptable over the years, “coming out of the closet” and admitting that you’re gay is extremely difficult for African-Americans. Why? “It’s about the worst thing you can be in Black culture,” Lemon told The New York Times

 

Over the past few days, the media has focused on the fact that Lemon is now “out.” His openness, however, shines a spotlight on a topic whose relevance has never really dimmed in the African-American community: homophobia. 

 

Some believe that Lemon’s announcement is a stepping stone in the Black community. “I think it really is an opportunity for [Blacks] to have real conversations about how the vestiges of our history impact our current perceptions about sexual orientation and gender identity,” Daryl Hannah, Senior Media Field Strategist of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, tells BET.com.

 

GLAAD hosts programs to help build conversations in the African-American community about inclusion and fairness with LGBTs.

 

“A lot comes from real people just sitting down and having real conversations,” Hannah says.

 

“In that conversation when someone says ‘I am a gay man who wants to be able to take care of my family’; ‘I want to be able to go to work without fear of being fired for who I am’; ‘I want to be able to walk the streets without fear of being who I am’; we see that we have a lot in common as Americans verses the differences that we have,” he says.

 

Hannah explains that in the African-American community coming out is extremely different because Black men are expected to be the strong male figure. If someone is gay, there is an inherent belief that he cannot be that figure and that he is less of a man.

 

Though any Black man expressing his homosexuality publically is a triumph for the LGBT African-American community, Hannah believes that Lemon’s announcement was particularly special.

 

“Whenever a Black kid who is struggling with his sexual orientation turns on CNN and he sees Don Lemon on TV, there’s an instant connection there because he is now looking at the face of someone on a national news network who understands what it feels like to be young, who understands what it feels like to be gay, who understands what it feels like to be Black. And, who ultimately understands how all of those identities intersect. And on top of all of that, understands what it’s like to be afraid to come out of the closet."

 

Lemon discussed the importance of coming out last night on The Mo’nique Show on BET. Highlights of the show will appear later today on BET.com.

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