Don Lemon: LGBT Media Matters For All Americans

The National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association is beginning a 4-day event in Philadelphia. Diverse panelists will discuss media coverage of issues surrounding the LGBT community. Host Michel Martin and CNN Anchor Don Lemon explore how far LGBT media has come and what else must be achieved.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: The 21st annual convention of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association gets underway in Philadelphia today. The event aims to bring together a diverse group of voices to talk about the coverage of issues important to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, so we thought this would be a good time to check in on the state of LGBT media.

We wondered what is its role now that the mainstream press is covering many of the issues specific to the community and what might be done better and where has the industry succeeded and where hasn't it.

So to answer some of these questions, we decided to turn, once again, to CNN news anchor and correspondent Don Lemon. He'll be giving the keynote address to those attending the convention. He recently published his memoir, "Transparent," in which he disclosed his own sexual orientation. We talked about this on this program as well a couple months back, so he's back with us.

Don, thanks so much for joining us once again.

DON LEMON: Hey, thanks for having me. And when I hear it, finally someone say it, I'm like, what am I going to say to all these journalists? You know that anxiety you get before you have to make a speech?

MARTIN: Well, I was going to ask you that, so I'll give you a couple more minutes to think about it. And, you know, Don, it's been a couple of months for you. You've gone from, professionally at least, in the closet. Would that be an accurate...

LEMON: I guess it's...

MARTIN: ...an accurate description of what you...

LEMON: ...fair to say that in some way since I, you know, wasn't really out publicly. I didn't say it publicly, but you know, you and I have talked about this. It wasn't really coming out with friends and family and people I had a personal connection with. It was just sort of saying it publicly, so for simplicity - yeah.

And what's it been like? It's been interesting just to watch, and I feel free, and all those things, all those wonderful things they say when you finally get something off your chest. But it's also a big responsibility. It's also a lot of eyes on me in scrutiny about every single thing that I say when it comes to that issue and it's like, oh gosh, you know.

And you know, and I've been asked to do almost every single, you know, event that has to do with the community of prominence in the country, and so I have to decide, am I going to continue to do those things? Am I going to in some way - does that mean that I'm sort of advocating for them if I show up at every single event?

So it's just having to weigh those things, so that part has been interesting, but I decided to do it because, I mean, why not? As one of the most prominent people, at least according to - that's what people say about me - most prominent journalists who are out, or at least - I think it's important for me to have a presence there and for me to actually walk in and own it and for all those journalists who are there, to say to them, like, not only that it's okay, but thank you for your support.

MARTIN: Do you feel that your decision to disclose your sexual orientation has changed the way the public relates to you in any way or the way sources relate to you in any way? And unlike race, where you don't have the option of disclosing, for the most part, are there people who say, well, you should not now cover these issues because you have now disclosed? Is that something that has happened or no?

LEMON: I think people question whether I should cover those issues and whether or not I'm going to be biased about those issues, and I think not. I think it gives me a knowledge about those issues that many people don't have, so if someone says something that's bogus or inaccurate, then I can call them out and I can say, listen, that's not quite accurate.

MARTIN: I'm speaking with CNN news anchor and correspondent Don Lemon. He's giving the keynote address at the 21st Annual Convention of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. That group is meeting in Philadelphia starting today.

You know, earlier this month, TELL ME MORE broadcast from the National Association of Black Journalists Convention. A number of journalist groups meet at this time of year - the Hispanic journalists, Asian American journalists, Native American journalists and so forth, and of course gay and lesbian journalists.

And the issue of diversity in the media and the level of diversity or the lack thereof tends to be a topic that surfaces at these conventions. I'd like to ask you how satisfied are you with the level of diversity in newsrooms, both as an African-American and as a gay man?

LEMON: I am proud of the diversity at my particular company. I think in the industry overall we could have more diversity. You know, I think that we should always work towards that and I think that we're doing it. Things are good, or better than they were, but we need to work harder.

MARTIN: On the other hand, there are some gay activists of color who sometimes believe that the issues that are surfaced as being of particular interest to the gay and lesbian community are too narrow in their view. They feel that, for example, the focus on same sex marriage for some people is not the only issue that needs to be discussed.

And I wondered, now that you are more free, I would say, to speak about these issues, I wonder if you think there are issues in terms of issues surfaced by the gay and lesbian community that need to be more diverse or not.

LEMON: I do think that it needs to be more diverse and in some ways I think they need to be more specific. I think that marriage yeah, that's one issue, but I think equality overall is another issue.

It's interesting, Michel, that I think that some people are - in the Civil Rights Movement, like there are some who say, oh well, you know, the gays and lesbians have sort of hijacked the message for(ph) the Civil Rights Movement. I look at it, as someone who happens to be black and a product of the Civil Rights Movement, I think it's a compliment.

MARTIN: And then, finally, Don, before I let you go, I wanted to ask you, you know, the vast majority of people who will be listening to our conversation are not journalists, they're not African-American, and they're not gay. And so I wanted to ask why you think people who are not part of those groups should care about this convention, should care about the things that are discussed. You know, why should media consumers in general be interested in these issues?

LEMON: Well, I think it's important for all people because, just as you are - people are glued to what's happening in Libya, because it affects us. Any atrocity that's committed against one person affects us all and we are becoming more of one society, of a global society, so something that happens in the Middle East or something that happens in Africa, something that happens in Asia affects all of us.

And just to be snarky for a little bit, if you care and can tune in for something like Casey Anthony, then you can care and tune in, not only on television, but in your own life, about something that has to do with people who are probably around you and who you love and work with and in your own life. And so I think that people should care because they that's what America is founded upon. We were founded upon civil and equal rights for all people.

MARTIN: Don Lemon is an award-winning anchor and correspondent for CNN. He is the author of "Transparent," a memoir. He joins us from New York and he is scheduled to give the keynote address tomorrow at the Annual Convention of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, which is meeting in Philadelphia.

Don Lemon, thanks so much for joining us once again.

LEMON: Thank you. It's always a pleasure.

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