Monday, May 16, 2011

Coming Out: Don Lemon & Will Sheridan

Today brought the news that CNN anchor Don Lemon has come out as a gay man.  In some eyes, given that this is 2011, a handful of states have or recognize same-sex marriage, and the Congress and president repealed the odious Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) law, Lemon's step might seem passé, but Lemon is nevertheless a pioneer: he becomes the first major national African-American anchor, and only the third newsperson employed by a major broadcast or cable channel, to have come out in recent years. (Thomas Roberts and Rachel Maddow are the others.) He chose as his venue his first book, a memoir entitled Transparent (Farrah Gray Foundation Press, 2011), in which he discusses his trajectory as a journalist, as well as some of the personal struggles he has faced over his 45 years. These include his having grown up without a father, and having survived childhood sexual abuse, which he had previously spoken out about. Lemon has CNN's full support and apparently was out to his peers and, but according to news reports, he particularly feared the repercussions he might face from the black community, citing cultural expectations of black men and religious attitudes. I personally would not deny either of these, though I would say, from personal experience, that black people are no more homophobic than any other group, despite the general caricatures, and that it depends upon whom your dealing with, your class background, and so on. From the little I've seen online, most of the commentary on black websites or from black commenters has been very to at least fairly positive, matching the postings of non-black posters on sites like Huffington Post, or Yahoo!, whose boards can be particularly vitriolic and puerile at times.  I would venture that in general, Lemon will be as heartily embraced by black people as by anyone else, particularly among younger people, who have far fewer issues around sexuality than their elders, and that his courageous step, like those of many others in the spotlight who have come out, particular men and women of color, will have a salutary effect on and for many people, of whatever age and race, but especially for the young and for African Americans, who are struggling with their sexual orientations and identifications, social rejection from peers and family members, and related crises. It's a net plus, for Lemon and everyone else.

Also today came news of another public self-outing (h/t, that of Will Sheridan, a former Division 1 basketball player for Villanova.  According to Outsports, Sheridan is only the second Division 1 male basketball player (and interestingly enough, the second African American) after John Amaechi, to have come out. (Ex-Division 1 player Travon Free, also African American, came out as bisexual earlier this year, and is now a comedian in Los Angeles.)  Outsports cites an ESPN article stating that Sheridan was out to teammates--as more than few gay athletes probably are these days--and was "privately dat[ing] a man from another Philadelphia school"--and also was involved in various artistic activities while at Villanova, including "spoken-word performances." The piece also mentions that he ran on his "tip-toes," which is to say, that he ran "funny," which provided "ammunition" for opposing fans. (Excuse me, but this verges on the stereotypical and homophobic....) While the usual discussion about queer male athletes coming out centers on the fear teammates may have (and have expressed) about being in the locker room with a gay man, what seems to be more at issue is the brouhaha the coming out may provoke from others not on the team--fans, boosters, the media. In fact, the coming and being out may come to overshadow everything else. Even taking that into account, I think doing so is a good thing, even in light of the complexities and politics of queer visibility and outness, especially for people of color, and I believe we'll soon see the day when more gay male athletes, including men of color, on team sports, will come out while still playing, and it won't be a big deal, at least to most of the people around them. Sheridan, now out, is a budding musician, and tweets here.

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