When Don Lemon
came out in 2011
, he joined a small but substantial group of openly gay cable news anchors like Thomas Roberts,
, and Anderson Cooper. Soon afterward, MSNBC's Maddow implored gay anchors to follow suit, calling it a responsibility.
But from all the friends who came out in support of the CNN anchor, one particular voice stood out: former NBA star Charles Barkley.
"What was interesting was having gay allies
straight allies," Lemon told
during the Point Foundation's recent
Point Honors 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."
Orange Is the New Black
's Uzo Adubo and MSNBC anchor Roberts were honored by the Point Foundation for making a significant positive impact on LGBT life. Lemon was honored to present the Point Impact Award to Roberts, a man he calls a role model.
"Thomas came out before I did," Lemon said. "I said, 'Well, that guy did. Maybe there's a chance for me.' It took me a year or so after him to do it. But I finally did."
Shortly after coming out publicly, Lemon told
"I haven't been in the closet for a long time. It was just something I didn't talk about in interviews. But I would date people and I would be 'out.'"
Seven years later, Lemon has proven to be not only a standout anchor, but a loud advocate for LGBT coverage on cable news.
"Community is very important," Lemon said in the more recent interview. "People need to have support when they come out. 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. I think once I did come out, it was really great to have a support group around me."
As far as mentors go, he said, "My biggest [mentor] is my mother, who told me that she loved me and accepted me no matter what. I think I'm going to have her be a PFLAG mom now. She's so 'rah rah rah!' When someone comes out, she is the first person to call me and say, 'Do you know this person. Have you reached out to them?'"
The Point Foundation's mission is to empower promising LGBT students to achieve their full academic and leadership potential -- despite the obstacles often put before them -- to make a significant impact on society, a cause near and dear to Lemon's heart. "I love what the Point does," he said. "They help students, give scholarships, holds their hand. It is really important."