The 52-year-old CNN anchor stopped by the latest episode of Red Table Talk and discussed the recent homophobic and racist attack against the Empire star, in which, according to a source, two men started yelling racial and homophobic slurs at Smollett before repeatedly hitting him. The men then poured a substance on him -- believed to be bleach, according to the source -- and one of the attackers put a rope around his neck.
"My initial reaction was sadness. I wasn't shocked. I didn't like that it happened to him," Lemon, who came out publicly in 2011, said. "I called him because we have mutual friends. I got the friend on the phone, the friend talked to me for a minute. The friend goes, 'Jussie's here seeing the doctor.' And I talked to Jussie for a minute and then he said, 'I gotta go, the doctor's here.' And it just made me sad."
Lemon has remained singularly focused on Smollett's well-being since the attack.
"It's been reported this happened or that happened, but my main concern is for him and for his well-being," Lemon said. "... One, he has to deal with discrimination as a black man, then, on top of that, he has to be gay and he's out. And then fame."
"Fame is not natural. I don't think people were meant to be famous," he continued. "... When something happens and it's controversial, everyone is coming for you. And so I knew everyone would be picking apart his story. It's not for me. That's not my concern. My concern is for him."
That concern has led Lemon to check in on Smollett every day with text messages.
"So every day I say... 'I know you think I'm annoying you, but I just want to know how you're doing. And that you're OK. And that if you need somebody you can talk to me because there's not a lot of us out there,'" Lemon revealed. "Sometimes he responds, sometimes he doesn't. He responded and said, 'You are not annoying.'"
Smollett's attack is one of many things of late that's led Lemon to be fearful in his life as a gay black man.
"I've had fear recently because of the political environment. I get death threats... I have security," Lemon said. "All of these things that happen. Listen, we've always been divided ideologically, but there's something different going on now."
"Don [Lemon] is on this week, and with the whole Jussie Smollett situation that has occurred, my mother and Willow and I were very interested in the experience of being openly gay, black and male in America," she explained. "That's a very short list, and the only person I could think of to bring to the table to talk about that experience is Don."
"Don came with so much wisdom and so much information, and he really enlightened me about what the experience is like and in a way that I really didn't get or understand before I talked to Don," she continued. "I hope people who have family members or have children, families that are struggling with figuring out how to deal with a child that's openly gay, or people who are trying to figure out how to talk about it, will watch the show."