A broken heart paved the way for CNN anchor Don Lemon's first, and most personal, coming-out moment.
"My first boyfriend and I had broken up," remembers Lemon, 54, in this week's issue of PEOPLE. "We were living together in New York in the mid-90s, where I had moved so I could live around other like-minded people."
Lemon's mother, Katherine Clark, sensed her son's unhappiness from back home in Baton Rouge.
"So I told her, 'Mom, I'm really sad about John and our relationship,'" he recalls. "She asked me what kind of relationship we had, and I told her, 'He was my lover.' That's when I started crying."
Lemon says it was "one of those scenes": Clark told him that she had chosen to ignore rumors over the years and that she loved him unconditionally.
"She was okay with it for a while," Lemon says. "But as I became stronger, she became weaker."
- For more from Don Lemon, pick up this week's Pride issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
Clark expressed a desire for grandchildren, and she worried for her son's safety, emotional health and career.
His being open, Lemon says, helped his mom: "She started to learn about my friends and my life, and she really started to accept it. She realized that all [her fears] weren't true, and she was building that up in her head."
Over the next 15 years, Lemon's career — and life — thrived. He came out publicly via a New York Times profile in 2011.
"I've learned that only once you come out, once you see the world from that perspective, then you get to be, 'What was I worried about?'" he says.
And today Lemon is engaged.
"Now I have three dogs, I live with my fiancé [real estate exec Tim Malone]," he says. "We go on vacations. We rent motor homes and we go camping and we do things that I never thought that I would do. And now I'm just like — it all feels normal. I'm buying a station wagon, okay?"