“Someone like Kevin Hart, with one of the biggest megaphones in the world, can be a leader, the ultimate change agent,” Lemon, an openly gay man, told viewers. “He can help change homophobia in the black community — something Kevin’s old Twitter jokes addressed, but in the wrong way.”
The segment came after Hart appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on Friday, where Ellen DeGeneres said she forgave him for the anti-gay tweets that led him to quit as Oscars host last month. She said she’d called Oscars officials who she said told her they wanted him back as host. Hart told DeGeneres he was “evaluating the conversation.”
Lemon called out Hart for claiming to have “addressed [the tweets] several times” before the Academy said he had to either apologize or give up hosting the Oscars. Hart had initially refused to apologize, but later apologized in a tweet and stepped down from the hosting gig.
Lemon said CNN could not find any such previous apologies for the tweets and told viewers “if you could find one, honestly, feel free to send it our way.”
The segment referenced Vulture writer Megh Wright’s “investigation” into the apologies Hart claimed to have made at the time. Wright found a few instances over the years where Hart had said he’s not making gay jokes like he used to because “the times weren’t as sensitive as they are now.” She did not locate any apology.
Wright also called out DeGeneres for referring to Hart’s critics as “haters” and allowing him to go unchallenged in his assertion that he’d apologized.
In his CNN segment, Lemon criticized Hart’s Twitter apologies and the appearance on Ellen, saying, “they seem insincere and...he has somehow turned himself into a victim instead of acknowledging the real victims of violent and sometimes deadly homophobia.”
Lemon also criticized DeGeneres, saying she “doesn’t speak for the whole community” and that we “need to speak up for the young black people, especially young black men, kids, in the LGBT community.”
“These issues need to be addressed, especially when it comes to black youth in our country, because they need to know that they have value and it’s okay to be who they are,” Lemon said.
“And people are giving passes,” he continued. “We in the African American community, we have to stop low-key cosigning homophobia. It is not cool, and we won’t tolerate jokes that tell those youth otherwise.”
Lemon acknowledged that Hart’s old tweets, in which he joked about beating his child if he thought he might be gay, can have “life or death” effects on the LGBT community.
“Walking away right now, that is your choice,” said Lemon. “But many of us really need to keep the conversation going — it’s life or death.”
Citing the real-life story of director Lee Daniels, Lemon said Hart’s anti-gay jokes are the “reality for many little boys in the United States.”
“Somewhere, a black dad is beating his black son, the same way it happened to my friend, Oscar-nominated director Lee Daniels, who through his TV show Empire portrayed how, as a little boy, his dad threw him in a trash can for wearing heels,” he said.
Lemon concluded his plea by challenging Hart to not only apologize but to actively become an ally.
“We need to talk about how people who’ve messed up can become allies as well,” he said, “because apologizing and moving on does not make the world a better place for people who are gay or transgender — being an ally does.”
In an apparent response to Lemon on Saturday, Hart posted on Instagram with a message about learning and growth that made reference to “a news anchor or a journalist.”
“When did we get to the point where we forgot that we all learn, then we all have the ability to grow and with that growth comes a wealth of knowledge,” he wrote. “You can’t change without a understanding of what GROWTH means.”