Don Lemon on Stonewall 50: ‘I’m Engaged. A Gay Man Might Become President. But the Struggle Isn’t Over.’
CNN anchor Don Lemon is ‘eternally grateful to my trans brothers and sisters, and my brothers and sisters who perform in drag, who risked their lives fighting the powers that be.’
In this special series, LGBT celebrities and public figures talk to Tim Teeman about the Stonewall Riots and their legacy—see more here.
Don Lemon is anchor of CNN Tonight with Don Lemon.
When/how did you first hear about the Stonewall Riots, and what did you make of them?
I heard about the riots in college around the same time I was introduced to James Baldwin through his novel, Giovanni’s Room. It was the mid-1980s and I was coming of age and to terms with my sexuality.
I started reading any and everything I could about being gay. The same summer that I read that book and studied up on all things gay, I was asked to house sit for my vacationing aunt and uncle who lived in Sugar Hill up in Harlem.
It was around that time that I fell in love with Judy Garland and learned about the relationship between her death and the riots. Stonewall was one of the first gay bars I went to when I visited New York City that very summer.
What is their significance for you?
Obviously the riots were the beginning of the gay rights movement. The riots helped teach the larger society that gay lives have meaning, that trans lives have meaning.
And I must say it gave me a new appreciation of my trans brothers and sisters and my brothers and sisters who perform in drag. They risked their lives fighting the powers that be because it was simply the right thing to do. They were fed up. I am eternally grateful to them.
How far have we LGBT people come since 1969?
We’ve come a long way since 1969. Until recently I thought that it would never be possible for my relationships to be public. Never in a million years did I think I’d ever be able to legally marry my partner. And right now as I’m writing this, I’m engaged to the man of my dreams, making wedding plans and contemplating having children. I’m also watching America embrace an openly gay man who may have a real chance at becoming president of the United States. That’s progress, but the struggle isn’t over.
What would you like to see in the next 50 years?
I’d like to see a gay president. I’d like to see a time when people don’t have to come out because it doesn’t matter. I’d like to see a less polarized, more diverse gay community.