It was a very gay Sunday for The New York Times, as two men came out as openly gay for the first time in this weekend’s edition. By coming out, both men—CNN anchor Don Lemon (right) and Phoenix Suns president Rick Welts (left)—have positioned themselves as trailblazers for the LGBT community. Lemon is one of only a few gay news anchors, and he’s also one of the most high-profile out, gay black men, whereas Welts’ announcement breaks new ground in the world of American sports.
Don Lemon has been on the CNN team since 2006, currently working as the weekend primetime anchor for CNN Newsroom. He’s been a star performer, having won the Edward R. Murrow award and an Emmy for his reporting. His announcement in The Times means that he’s joined the ranks of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Thomas Roberts as one of the few openly gay news anchors.
Perhaps more interestingly, Lemon is now one of very few openly gay black (pseudo-) celebrities. A quick scan of a “Look Who’s Gay and Famous!” list shows how white the current pool is. Lemon told The Times that this is part of the reason it took him so long to come out (although, of course, the new release of his tell-all book probably has something to do with his timing). He said in the Times interview:
I’m scared. … 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. In the black community they think you can pray the gay away.
Rick Welts’ decision to come out bears similarly monumental significance. As president and chief executive of the Phoenix Suns, whose resume includes creating the NBA All-Star Weekend and helping to found the WNBA, he’s a big deal in the realm of basketball and American athletics. His announcement makes him one of the first prominent sports figures to come out.
Then, today, ESPN published a story in which Will Sheridan, a former forward on the Villanova basketball team, came out publicly. While Sheridan played at Villanova—the team was a perennial Top 10 program—his teammates knew he was gay. Despite the over-saturated media atmosphere around big-time college programs, word never got out. Head coach Jay Wright didn’t even find out until after Sheridan graduated. No one on the team felt the need to complain about having a gay teammate. Sheridan’s teammates just didn’t see his sexual orientation as that big of a deal. It was his personal business and that was that. As much as Sheridan’s coming out is progress, his teammates’ reaction is an even bigger step in the right direction.
Lemon and Welts understand the impact that their announcements could have on each of their respective communities. They know how rare it is to see openly gay black celebrities or openly gay sports executives. But they also realize that someone must be the first step in pushing forward in that frontier to provoke change, and they’ve decided that they could be that first step.
According to the comprehensive Times profile about Welts:
Welts explained that he wants to pierce the silence that envelops the subject of homosexuality in men’s team sports. He wants to be a mentor to gay people who harbor doubts about a sports career, whether on the court or in the front office.
Lemon echoed a similar sentiment in the article, saying:
I think it would be great if everybody could be out. I think if I had seen more people like me who are out and proud, it wouldn’t have taken me 45 years to say it, to walk in the truth.
Lemon’s and Welts’ announcements ought to encourage more people in different communities or career fields to do just that: be yourself.
(Photos AP/David Wallace and CNN)