Don Lemon managed to anger black gay men everywhere with his recent appearance on Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk which appears exclusively on Facebook. Though well intended and remarkably soul baring, Don seemingly offered up the rationale of black men mostly being on the DL (the down low) as an explanation for why he opted to date a white man. This unintentionally perhaps suggested that living with societal shame of one’s homosexuality is of black gay male exclusivity and it was an intolerable field through which to navigate as he searched for companionship. This was all resolved apparently when the white gay guy came along.
Before going further let me make one thing clear, I am a Don Lemon fan. I was even in the audience cheering him on when he received Metrosource Magazine’s “People we love” award in New York City. As an upcoming gay, black, male media presence myself, I often look to Don’s work as a standard to which I should hold my own journalistic contributions. That said, whereas I am usually in agreement with his perspectives, there are times he leaves me scratching my head and asking, “Gurl huh?” Like for example in 2013, when he professed his support of the controversial, racially biased “Stop and Frisk” policy in New York City, or even more recently when he somewhat attacked celebrated journalist April Ryan in his defense of journalists questioning Kamala Harris’ blackness. Don Lemon is mostly always on the right side of history and mostly always gets it right. But the times that he gets it wrong are noteworthy.
Don Lemon’s presence in TV Journalism is an important one and not just because he’s a brown male face in a medium where there aren’t many of the same, but because additionally he is also a gay man. Checking both the “gay” and “black” box is a heavy burden to bear sometimes. I know because I share a similar identity to Don in these regards and I understand the dynamics. Also like Don, I happen to be in a relationship with a white man – 19 years in fact. So I understand many of the personal anecdotes he shared about interracial dating when he sat down at the Red Table.
Being black, gay and male does not automatically put us all into a monolithic existence. Don’s personal struggles are uniquely his and according to celebrity gossip site Madam Noire, Don expressed to Jada Pinkett Smith, daughter Willow and grandmother Adrienne that, “Relationships With Black Men Didn’t Work Because They Weren’t Out.“ This is where I find myself giving him the boy-bye side eye. Really Don? None of us were out? You couldn’t find one black, out, proud, gay male to date in the 80s and 90s?
The reason this doesn’t sit well with me is because for one thing, Don is a just a few years older than I am, which puts our “coming out” period within the same time of the mid 80s-90s. I can assure you there was an abundance of out proud gay black men everywhere from Miami to Mykonos. Hell, I was one of them. So if Don wanted to holla at a brutha back in the day, I would’ve been like hey baby let’s do this! I mean he is pretty cute.
What bothers me most about Don’s assessment is that he seems to be scapegoating African American gay men as his reason for dating white men rather than just stating, “Hey, I like white guys”. If during Don Lemon’s time of coming out he continued to encounter only black gay men on the DL with whom he could not pursue public relationships with, well that speaks more about the men he was attracted to than anything else. That was not a black gay male issue. That was a Don Lemon issue.
Don’s Red Table Talk appearance is an important one because he does in fact share the unique perspectives of what it’s like to be gay, black and male in America. We are a doubly marginalized group with a voice that deserves to be heard. However, much like his perspective on Stop and Frisk, and Kamala Harris’ blackness, there are moments while watching where I found something just a little bit sour in the Lemon.
This piece is an opinion piece by one Contributing Writer for Instinct Magazine and may not reflect the opinion of the magazine or other Contributing Writers.