CNN anchor Don Lemon devoted a significant portion of his show Friday night to addressing the controversy over Kevin Hart’s past homophobic jokes, which led the comedian to step down from his Oscars-hosting duties last month. In a Dec. 7 tweet announcing his decision, Hart apologized to the LGBTQ community for his “insensitive words" in his past. But during a recent interview with Ellen DeGeneres, a clip of which the talk show host posted on Friday, Hart also expressed frustration at being asked to apologize again for something that he’d already apologized for many times.
Lemon, in his remarks, questioned whether there had, in fact, been any prior apologies, citing the results of an investigation by the entertainment website Vulture: "What they did not find is an apology, or the words, ‘I’m sorry,’ ” he stated.
“For many in the gay community — but especially in the black community, okay? — the Twitter apologies or explanations on ‘Ellen’ have fallen flat,” said Lemon, who noted that he was speaking as a member of both groups. “To many, they seem insincere, and that he has somehow turned himself into a victim instead of acknowledging the real victims of violent and sometimes deadly homophobia. Kevin, if anything, this is the time to hear other people out, to understand why they might have been offended.”
Many of the jokes in question have since been deleted from Hart’s Twitter account, including this 2011 tweet: “Yo if my son comes home & try’s 2 play with my daughters doll house I’m going 2 break it over his head & say n my voice ‘stop that’s gay.’” Lemon also played a portion of a 2010 comedy special in which Hart claims that, “Every kid has a gay moment, okay? Every kid. But when it happens, you got to nip it in the bud. You got to stop it right there."
Hart told Rolling Stone in 2015 that he wouldn’t tell homophobic jokes anymore because, when the 2010 special aired, “the times weren’t as sensitive as they are now.” Lemon didn’t find this explanation satisfactory: “Sensitivity, though, is not an apology,” Lemon said, noting that the only time Hart actually said he was sorry came after the film academy gave him an ultimatum: Apologize or walk away.
In Hart’s appearance on “The Ellen Show,” during which DeGeneres says she called the motion picture academy to advocate for Hart to be reinstated as Oscars host, Hart seemed to walk back his apology, saying he stepped down because “I felt like it was a conversation that was going to continue and continue and continue. . . . I don’t want to have this conversation anymore because I know who I am. I’m not that guy.”
Not everyone has the privilege to step away from this conversation, Lemon noted. Hart may have been joking when he said he would break a dollhouse over his son’s head, but the CNN anchor pointed out that such violence is a reality for many kids. Lemon recalled how a friend of his, the film director Lee Daniels, was once thrown in a trash can by his father for wearing high heels, an incident Daniels dramatized in an episode of the TV series “Empire.”
Someone with as much influence as Hart could “help change homophobia in the black community,” Lemon said, before citing a few statistics: 44 percent of homeless gay youth are black, as are 62 percent of homeless transgender youth. For context, Lemon added, black people are only around 12 percent of the U.S. population.
“These issues have to be addressed, especially when it comes to black youth in our country, because they need to know they have value and that it’s okay to be who they are,” Lemon said. “We in the African American community, we have to stop low-key co-signing homophobia."
He added, “We need to talk about how people who may have messed up can become allies as well. Apologizing and moving on does not make the world a better place for people who are gay, or people who are transgender. Being an ally does.”
In an Instagram post on Saturday morning, Hart seemed to respond to the continued controversy, writing about the importance of “understanding what GROWTH means.” Hart cited a number of occupations — including Lemon’s — to illustrate his point. “A doctor is not great at their job in the beginning....he/she have to LEARN how to be great,” Hart wrote. “A news anchor or a journalist does not start at the top....they have to LEARN and develop to be great at their job.”