“Do I want to be ‘the gay anchor’?" CNN’s Don Lemon asked himself, according to a May 16 interview with NPR.
He realized that coming out could brand him and hurt ratings, the 45-year-old weekend anchor said. But he forged ahead nonetheless and acknowledged that he’s gay in advance of the upcoming release of his memoir “Transparent.”
Lemon’s revelation closely followed that of Phoenix Suns president Rick Welts, who came out in an interview with The New York Times on May 15.
Just two out gay people hold prominent on-air roles in network or cable news at the national level –MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and daytime anchor Thomas Roberts.
“We live and die by people watching us,” Lemon told NPR. “If I give people another reason not to watch me, that is a concern for me and that's a concern for whoever I am working for.”
“My livelihood is on the line,” he said, “I don't know if people are going to accept me; if I will have a job. I don't know how people will feel about this.”
Lemon’s colleagues were already aware of his four-year relationship with his boyfriend, who’s a CNN producer. But until now he’s been publicly quiet about his sexual orientation.
People in the broadcast news profession told NPR that Lemon’s concerns about coming out are well founded. Former ABC News president David Westin said an anchor would not be disqualified for coming out but there is a risk that some viewers would tune out.
Lemon said his mentors and agents challenged him to consider whether he was willing to wear the label of gay throughout his career.
“And I'd have to say, at this point, why the hell not?” he answered.