By Rev. Irene Monroe
CNN’s Don Lemon has penned a memoir titled Transparent that will come out in September. In writing his book, Lemon said, ”The decision to come out happened organically.”
One of the motivating reasons for Lemon, 45, now revealing his sexual orientation is because of the suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi. The 18-year-old freshman, if you remember, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after finding out that his college roommate and another classmate used a webcam to secretly broadcast his sexual encounters with another male, highlighting the dangers of ”cyberbullying” — teasing, harassing, or intimidating with pictures or words distributed online or via text message.
Clementi’s suicide, along with the suicides of eight other lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth and young adults, went viral in September 2010, saturating the media.
In this era of acceptance of LGBTQ people in news broadcasting like ABC’s Good Morning America weather anchor Sam Champion, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, and her colleague Thomas Roberts, to name a few, one would wonder about the source of the media brouhaha with Lemon’s disclosure, especially since it was not secret at work about his sexual orientation.
”It’s quite different for an African American male,” Lemon told Joy Behar on her HLN show. ”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.”
And Lemon is right. With homophobia running as rampant in Historically Black Colleges and Universities as it is in Black communities, there are no safe places for GBTQ brothers of African descent to safely acknowledge their sexuality or to openly engage the subject of Black GBTQ sexualities.
”I was born gay, just as I was born Black,” Lemon told Behar.
But Black GBTQ sexualities within African American culture are perceived to further threaten not only Black male heterosexuality, but also the ontology of Blackness itself. With certain aspects of hip hop culture displaying a hyper-masculinity, this male-dominated genre is aesthetically built on the most misogynistic and homophobic strains of Black nationalism and Afrocentricism.
Lemon courageously goes on to explain to Behar another reason why it took him so long to come out: ”…Our community is steeped in religion, with the church preaching against homosexuality. I prayed a lot growing up that I would change, that I would be straight. But no matter how good I was, how much I prayed and denied what I was, it [being gay] was always there.”
According to the PEW Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, 87 percent of African Americans identify with a religious group and 79 percent say that religion is very important in their lives. The Pew report also showed that since 2008, African American Protestants are less likely than other Protestant groups to believe that LGBTQ people should have equal rights.
And since hot-button issues like gay adoption and marriage equality have become more prominent, support for LGBTQ rights among African American Protestants has dipped as low as 40 percent.
A groundbreaking study in July 2010 came out titled ”Black Lesbians Matter,” examining the unique experiences, perspectives, and priorities of the Black lesbian, bisexual and trans community. One of the key findings of the survey revealed that there is a pattern of higher suicide rates among Black LBTs. Scholars have primarily associated these higher suicide rates with one’s inability to deal with ”coming out” and the Black church’s stance on homosexuality.
With the ”No Hope Baptist Church of God and Christ” and the ”Apostolic Church of H#!!” standing front and center in our Black communities espousing religion-based bigotry as the word of God, these places of worship are the reasons why Lemon — and we as an African American community — can’t tell the truth about our sexuality.
Lemon resides in Atlanta, and it’s not the old Atlanta of MLK days. It’s the new Black Mecca and the new ”Black Hollywood,” fondly called ”Hot-lanta.” African American stars flock to this entertainment Mecca-in-training, as do Black urban professionals (Buppies).
But if you’re LGBTQ in ”Hot-lanta” you stay in the closet, as Lemon once did.
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Huffington Post blogger and freelance journalist. A native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African American church before coming to Harvard Divinity School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow.