First Rick Welts, Then Don Lemon: A Big Day For Coming Out

Sunday was a huge day for coming out, as two high-profile movers and shakers took the big step. There’s lots to look at here, so let’s dive right in.

First there’s Rick Welts, president of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, came out at age 58 after decades in the closet.

Rick Welts, Phoenix Suns president
Rick Welts
President, Phoenix Suns
Rick Welts always knew.

[…] Late one night, he walked two miles to slip a long confessional letter under the door of a young minister at his family’s church, but the well-intentioned minister could not help him. So he resigned himself to adapt, in private.

[…] Although he had opened up to his supportive parents and to his younger, only sibling, Nancy, Mr. Welts feared that if he made his homosexuality public, it would impede his rising sports career.

“It wasn’t talked about,” he said. “It wasn’t a comfortable subject. And it wasn’t my imagination. I was there.”

But this privacy came at great cost. In March 1994, his longtime partner, Arnie, died from complications related to AIDS, and Mr. Welts compartmentalized his grief, taking only a day or two off from work. His secretary explained to others that a good friend of his had died. Although she and Arnie had talked many times over the years, she and her boss had never discussed who, exactly, Arnie was.

For weeks, Mr. Welts walked around the office, numb, unable to mourn his partner fully, or to share the anxiety of the weeklong wait for the results of an H.I.V. test, which came back negative.

Much, much more to that story, including the fact that it was only one day after Welts told NBA commissioner Bill Sterns that he was coming out publicly that Kobe Bryant famously called a referee a “fucking faggot.”

Oops.

Next there’s CNN weekend anchor Don Lemon, whose story broke about twenty minutes after I thought I had finished this post. This one will surely get more attention, in large part because his face is better known. Again, the New York Times had the story.

CNN Weekend Anchor Don Lemon
Don Lemon
CNN Weekend Anchor
Mr. Lemon has not made a secret of his sexual orientation in his work life; many of his CNN co-workers and managers have long been aware that he is gay. But he still acknowledged that going public in his book carries certain risks.

“I’m scared,” he said in a telephone interview. “I’m talking about something that people might shun me for, ostracize me for.”

Even beyond whatever effect his revelation might have on his television career, Mr. Lemon said he recognized this step carried special risk for him as a black man.

“It’s quite different for an African-American male,” he said. “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.” He said he believed the negative reaction to male homosexuality had to do with the history of discrimination that still affects many black Americans, as well as the attitudes of some black women.

More of Don Lemon’s story will be in his forthcoming book Transparent and this Tuesday in a “lengthy” interview with Michelangelo Signiorile.

Again, this was such a big day, one that I don’t think we quite understand the importance of yet. By coming out so publicly, both of these men are making a huge impact: Rick Welts because he’s such a well-respected executive in the men’s team sports industry, and Don Lemon because he’s African American and such a public figure.

Both seem to understand the weight of what they’re doing; in their articles, they each spoke of a desire to stand up for and stand with LGBT youth.

As Don Lemon said, “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.”

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