Lemon spoke with the GA Voice on May 23 while waiting for a driver in Los Angeles to take him to the “Tavis Smiley Show.”
Yes, he does have a boyfriend. His partner of four years lives in New York, he said. And at the end of the interview, he tearfully acknowledged the response to his coming out has been “overwhelming” and he is grateful for the love he is receiving.
But Lemon also admitted he was ready to get to New York to visit his partner and get back to “normal.”
“I haven’t seen him all week. I just want to mow the lawn. I just need to be normal again,” he said.
Lemon appears at Atlanta’s Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse on June 7 for a discussion with gay etiquette writer Steven Petrow, then visits the bookstore again June 22 to read and sign “Transparent.”
GA Voice: How out were you before revealing to the world that you are gay?
Don Lemon: I was out in my personal life, with my friends, my family knew. I told them when I was 30; I’m 45 now, believe it or not. People at work knew. It’s not something that you open and readily discuss with people and certainly not publicly.
Why did you come out to everyone else now?
The book was a catalyst. Someone approached me to write a book and I kept turning them down, when I realized I was doing what people do to me when they don’t want to be bothered. And I was telling myself no.
It was just supposed to be … a sort of inspirational book on how to be successful, how to be a pretty good person, lead a pretty good life and how to be happy and thrive in life.
I realized the only story I really knew with conviction was my own story. I had been pretty successful, consider myself a pretty good person, have led a pretty good life. And part of that was being gay. How could I write a book and leave that out?
So I started writing about my childhood. It became cathartic as I kept putting words on paper. I realized this is a book I would want to read. I realized that this is a book that would have helped me as a young person, and even as an older person, and as professional even now.
At first my publishers [Farrah Gray Publishing] were hesitant. They said, “All right, be careful.” Once they read it they said it was a beautiful story. But at any time I could have taken it out.
But then Tyler Clementi killed himself. I said leave it in and what will be will be. [Clementi is the Rutgers student who jumped off a bridge in September 2010 after his roommate secretly taped him in a sexual encounter with another man and broadcast it on the internet.]
What kind of reactions have you received?
Mostly positive. Some, very few, negative responses. You expect that even with the work I do, even in my daily professional life. You are never going to please everyone. When you stand up for yourself there will always be negativity. I just don’t look at that. I take criticism to heart. People have the right to say what they want. I just keep moving.
I feel I stand on the shoulders of civil rights leaders and freedom fighters who fought for me to be where I am, to have an education, to articulate and put words on paper. This is what they would have done — not that I’m any way near how brave they are.
I came from a long line of people who fought for freedom, civil rights and justice. I just need to stand on their shoulders and do what I think is right. And that’s what I’m doing.
When did you know you were gay?
I’ve always known. As a kid I wasn’t old enough … I was a kid, I was innocent. I didn’t know enough to sexualize. But I’ve always known. I was born gay just as I was born black.
Atlanta is considered a black gay mecca. Do you participate in any of Atlanta’s gay scenes, events?
I don’t inhibit myself from going places. I am an equal opportunity employer as far as ethnicities, backgrounds, sexual orientations. If a gay friend says let’s go to a gay bar, I will go. If a straight friend wants to go to a bar, I’ll go to a straight bar.
I don’t pick and choose. I’m a citizen of the world and believe everything is equal. I don’t limit to myself to just hanging out with gay people. I’m not an advocate for anything. I live my life freely. …
My first concern was that the gay community wouldn’t support me. I have gladly been proven wrong. I honestly thought nobody would care, “So what if Don Lemon is gay.” I did not think I would get the support that I’m getting. I am just grateful beyond belief.
The reason I didn’t think that is because I don’t consider myself a sort of prototype, like Ken doll, Superman, Clark Kent. That was due to my own limited belief. I’ve been overwhelmed by it. I’m so grateful and happy for the response to let me know my decision was the right one.
I’m curious about why you didn’t think the gay community would accept you. Can you elaborate?
Part of it was me. I was wrong in that. Again, I’m not a typical gay prototype, not on magazine covers like the pretty boys. Also, I would be invited to events by large gay organizations, because of my ideals, and I would be the only one or one of a handful of people of color in the room.
I just thought something was wrong with this picture. I didn’t see myself reflected in these groups. It’s just an observation. Maybe there’s something meant to be about this process also — I could be a person to help with that.
The black church has a strong reputation of being homophobic. What would you like to say on this issue?
Of course it’s not just the black church, but I’m a black person and I know how the church is. They like to preach that you can pray the gay away. People who have been discriminated against … should be more supportive of civil rights.
My challenge is for the church to look beyond these limited beliefs that promoted slavery, segregation. I think the black church could be a lot more inclusive and stop hurting kids by making kids think there is something wrong with them.