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April 05, 2017

Don Lemon: Charles Barkley among first to support my coming out

Six years after publishing memoir, CNN anchor reflects on importance of support

When "CNN Tonight" host Don Lemon publicly came out in 2011, he joined a small group of news media personalities who viewed the decision as a personal responsibility to the LGBTQ community. 

Fellow anchors Anderson Cooper, Rachel Maddow and Thomas Roberts had all revealed their sexual orientations to the public, but Lemon was among the first African-American hosts to openly discuss his status in his memoir, "Transparent."

Speaking recently at a gala for the Point Foundation, an LGBTQ scholarship, Lemon said that one of the first people to support him in coming out was former Philadelphia 76er and NBA analyst Charles Barkley.

“What was interesting was having gay allies and straight allies,” Lemon told The Advocate during the gala. “One of the first people to get in touch with me was Charles Barkley. He texted me and said, ‘I support you man. Good for you. Live your life, call me,’ and we’d talk for 20 or 30 minutes while I was walking down the streets of Manhattan. Rachel [Maddow] also sent me flowers.”

Lemon was in attendance at the gala to present an award to MSNBC's Thomas Roberts, whom he credited for giving him the courage to come out himself. The CNN anchor acknowledged that he hadn't been in the closet among friends and colleagues for a long time, but chose not to discuss it publicly in part because he was unsure about how it would be received.

“People need to have support when they come out," Lemon told The Advocate. "If I thought that I had that support, I would have come out much younger, maybe when I was a student. It was a different time."

Barkley, who is often willing to stir the pot on issues surrounding race and politics, joined a chorus of public figures who implored the NBA to move the 2017 NBA All-Star game out of Charlotte in the wake of North Carolina's passage of HB2, a bill restricting transgender bathroom access. The game was ultimately played in New Orleans.

"I’m against any form of discrimination — against whites, Hispanics, gays, lesbians, however you want to phrase it," Barkley said at the time. "It’s my job, with the position of power that I’m in and being able to be on television, I’m supposed to stand up for the people who can’t stand up for themselves."