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My Faith: How I learned to stop 'praying away the gay'
Don Lemon with his grandmother on his third birthday.
May 22nd, 2011
01:00 AM ET

My Faith: How I learned to stop 'praying away the gay'

Editor's Note: Don Lemon is a CNN anchor and author of Transparent, a memoir .

By Don Lemon, CNN

"School day, time to get up, sleepy head. School day."

Although she's been gone since 1998, my grandmother's words ring in my head just about every morning of my life. That's how MaMe, as I called her, got me out of bed and off to my Catholic school when I was growing up and in her care.

But before I shuffled my way to the bathroom to begin my morning routine, I had to hit the floor on my knees to pray, just as I had the night before.

It was usually The Lord's Prayer ("Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name...") followed by asking God to watch and guide me through my day until I returned to the safety of my home that evening.

But MaMe (pronounced MAH-me) didn't know that at a very early age her favorite grandson had begun to pray, silently, that God would change him from being different, from having crushes on boys, from being more curious about boys than girls.

By age four or five, I was too young to sexualize my infatuations but I knew that everyone else, including my family and friends, would think it was wrong.

Perhaps it was the conversations I overheard from adults around my hometown of Port Allen, Louisiana, who'd mimic gay people, calling them "funny" or "sissy" or "fagots."

Perhaps it was Sunday mornings at our Baptist church, where preachers taught that liking someone of the same sex was a direct and swift path to hell. And that if that person would just turn to the Lord and confess his sin, then God would change him back into the person He wanted him to be - a person who only had crushes on the opposite sex.

All of which meant that, from a very early age, I began to think I was dirty and that I was going to hell. Can you imagine what that feels like for a kid who was just learning to read and perform basic arithmetic? It was awful.

And talk about guilt - I was a Baptist attending Catholic school!

I prayed the silent prayer for God to change me every chance I got until I started attending college in New York. That's when common sense began to take hold and I realized that no amount of prayer would change me into something that wasn't natural to me.

With my religious upbringing, I'd had the opportunity to study religious doctrine. But I learned from different perspectives, from Catholic Mass on Fridays to Baptist services on Sundays to vacation Bible school in the summer to Bible study with a Jehovah's Witness as a teenager.

As I got older I began to realize that all these people and institutions interpreted the Bible somewhat differently. I had a sort of epiphany: the Bible was about the lessons you learned, not about the events or words.

When I became old enough, intelligent enough and logical enough to discern the difference between metaphor and reality, everything changed. I realized that Jonah living in the belly of a whale was a parable written in the same vein as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. saying that he had "been to the mountaintop."

Neither Jonah nor King had actually been to those places. They were metaphors for lessons for those of us who cared to absorb them.

So many of us, especially in the black community and in churches, tend to think that religious teachings happened word for word as they were written in Scripture. I think that's naïve, even dangerous.

That type of thinking - or non-thinking - keeps many religious people enslaved to beliefs that they haven't truly stepped back from and examined.

That type of thinking causes people who are otherwise good to shun and ostracize young gay people.

It causes people to want to control and change people who aren't like them. And who wants to be like someone else?

Imagine if we had allowed Christian doctrines and teachings that supported slavery, segregation and the subjugation of women to pervade our society all the way up until the current moment. What kind of world would that be?

Instead, we got on our knees, just as I did as a little boy, and prayed that slavery, segregation and the subjugation of women would end. In the United States, at least, those prayers have largely been realized.

I'm no longer the member of any church but I do believe in a higher power.

It's time for us, especially black people, to stop trying to pray the gay away and to get on our knees and start praying that the discrimination of gay people ends.

What we're doing to our young gay people now is child abuse. It's plain old bigotry and hatred. And if African-Americans don't know what that feels like in America, I don't know who does.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Don Lemon.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Opinion

soundoff (4,733 Responses)
  1. JT

    I just want to know why a book and an entire web article is necessary to tell the world their "Natural Tendencies". If it is natural, you would think an announcement is not in order!

    May 22, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Observer

      If ignorant people instead accepted it as natural, there wouldn't be any story.

      May 22, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • Rickote

      An anuncement is needed, so dumb people complain about it, and so eventually realize they are dumb. Dumb by choice, by the way.

      May 22, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • JT

      You two make a nice pair...Ignorant and Dumb...Your choice of words...Not Mine!

      May 22, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • Observer

      H0m0phobes are ignorant by CHOICE.

      May 22, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Mack

      It's "in order" for many reaosns: to let others know they are not alone; to educate those on the fence; to maek people aware that not all gay people fit the stereotype. I'm positive you've expressed a thought that many others knew, but maybe forgot, or didn't think of in a particular light. Just a thought,...

      May 22, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  2. Al

    I think the article was great and greatly needed to still be a topic of discussion in today's society! that said Don Lemon was one of the many unheard heros back in his early days of self discovery and acceptance! fortunately for him he is now in a great position to liberate himself from that world of hate and ingnorance he grew up with and was exposed to. Unfortunately in today's world ( as it is seen through the many hateful comments on here) racism and prejudice are still very much alive and deeply embedded in the fabric of our nation in 2011! I don't know Don but I can definitely understand where he is coming from, as I too grew up in a world sorrounded by ignorance, hate, and prejudice mostly rooted from my own kind. Don strike me as a very sensitive yet strong will individual who was able to absord and learn from the good and the bad he was exposed and grew up with. I grew up and occasonally still come across the same kind of ignorant and hateful people, but contrary to most victims who unfortunately become a victim of ignorance and hate later in life, I have learned to have no remorse or hate if anything but pity towards those who hate me for being who I am. Don Lemon I am sure feels the same way!? as a victim of ignorance and hate myself, at the end of each day, it feels good to know I have no remorse or hate in my heart towards haters and ignorant peoples, mainly because I am currently too busy and happy at being myself.

    May 22, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  3. lolrelgigion

    religion is wrong because it enslaves the mind body and soul.

    May 22, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  4. Edwardo

    @NPA – Are you for real? Comparing 2 humans love to "beastiality". That is blatantly hateful and ignorant, and hardly even on the topic. You sure are interested in this article...hmmm...wonder if you are "trying to find a way to pray away the gay".

    May 22, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Fordham Jock

      What's wrong with bestiality ? Genesis 2:20 Check it out. He offered Adam a "parade" and found "none proved to be a suitable partner for the man". That implies he tried it, and G-d was willing to accept it if that's what Adam wanted. Details, details. So annoying.

      May 22, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  5. RG

    A religion without the thinking and logic is not a religion. It is rather a form of slavery! A slavery of mind and soul and free spirit!

    May 22, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Foster

      that is very definite strong point. very well put.

      May 22, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  6. valerie

    wonderful post, and an inspiration to other children out there who may be dealing with the same issues you did. thank you!

    May 22, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • ISITME?

      Unfortunately there are children that are dealing with molestation from gays in their quest to make more gays in the world. If gaynes is a birth defect, then why are children involved as targets. Let nature take over if it is all about being born that way. That is because they know it is not, so they go around molesting children to try and make them gay. Its a sick spiritual disease, that can be cured the same way it festered..and that is by a simple choice to do what is right. If you take all the feeling away with being gay, no one wants to be at any ones backdoor except paid nurses for medical care.

      May 22, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      ISITME, you're nuts. Gays aren't attempting to "make more gays in the world." What idiocy. No one can "make" anyone gay, you ignorant twit.

      May 22, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  7. Rose

    ❤ you Don Lemon. You're a brave man.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  8. Derrique

    Well, it's been fun, but this is getting pretty dull. I have enough whiny women in my life, without having to listen to another chat room full of them. Too much emotion and not enough logical thought. Have fun with your handouts. If you guys can't even think of valid arguments to win ME over, then you'll never win society over. I took it easy on you, but not everyone else will. Get some FACTS behind your arguments, instead of going off on rants, and you might just have a case! Although, you'll have to do your homework first. You can't just get mad at people for not accepting some of your rhetoric, especially those people who have their facts in order already. Although it's horrible to say it this way, if you want acceptance for who you are, then you need to chill out. PROVE your case. People are waiting for PROOF that you are born gay, myself included. That's all you have to do. PROVE it. Sounds easy enough, right? Have a good one.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Rose

      I demand "proof" you were born straight. Your word isn't enough – I need cold, hard evidence.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • Free

      Can you 'prove' that you were born left or right-handed?

      May 22, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • me

      No one has to prove anything to a moron. It's not possible

      May 22, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • LATFTPdotcom

      No one need prove anything to you. Your opinion is of no matter. What you chose to believe changes nothing beyond the very narrow confines of your own thought. Plus I suspect no amount of evidence would convince you; you seem to have your mind made up. Meaning you my friend, are a bigot.

      May 22, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Wrong. If you are saying that the human experience of s-exuality involves choice, (that they chose to be g-ay), then how old were YOU, when you chose to be straight ? Are you sure you want to be giving that much information out in a public setting. (ie that your experience was that you could have gone "either way " ? )

      May 22, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • ISITME?

      It cant BE PROVEN! The only remote argument that can be used is that we are ALL born with a sinful nature and God has told us how to handle them, and one is not to indulge in them. If God says it is wrong, then consider it a sin and a part of your sinful nature that we all have. Through Gods word and discernment we come to know the truth and make choices that should be pleasing to God, not ourselves, others and society. Acceptable social behavior does not make it morally right. The problem I have with people is that they will say...if society accepts it, what is the problem. The problem is – what and "who" is this "society" that you are talking about. Break it down for us. Is it your neighbor, is it your church, is it media, is it your lover, is it your mom. Who do you see as "society"? I would like to know, because I do not live by the laws of society, but by the "natural and spiritual" laws of the Creator!

      May 22, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  9. Sam Houston

    Should a person always accept as normal and good feelings they've had for a long time? I don't believe so. A person who is born blind or deaf may accept and even claim they enjoy their condition and not have in any other way. But, would a person born blind truly understand the beauty of an orchidea, rose, or other beautiful flower? Or, a person that is born deaf know what water flowing in a creek sounds like, or the sound of a beautiful well- trained voice sounds like? No. They may accepted their condition or even convinced themselves that they prefer living that way, but, does that really mean it is the right way? In the Biblle, God condemns many forms of conduct. He does not hate the persons, rather he hates their bad practices. True, in our imperfect condition and twisted world we live in it may be difficult to fight against certain tendencies and temptations. However, that fact does not make such practices acceptable and good.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • aj

      Interesting reasoning.

      May 22, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  10. kristen

    Thank you Don. Really terrific :o)

    May 22, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  11. Dante

    Why are so many of my comments awaiting moderation? Am I not allowed to say "gay" ???

    May 22, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Dante

      haha, the reason is because I am not allowed to write h0m0s3xua1it.y Wow CNN, really?

      May 22, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Fordham Jock

      No you're not. You can say g-ay. Don't take it perso-na-lly. It's a c-o-mputer program that looks for letter strings, like "t-i-t-le". (You see what's em-be-dded there ?) Sometimes it's really diff-ic-u-lt to figure out what em-be-dd-ed series is ha-nging you up, but there is no CNN editor looking at anything. It's a very ch-e-ap so-ft-ware program, that has fru-str-ated everyone here. They really need to address this, as so many people have chosen to leave here for that very reason. But it's a sk-i-ll. S-t-i-c-k around, and most weeks the "experts:, will post a long list of the o-f-f-e-nding strings. LOL, THIS post just got "mo-ded", and I have to redo it. Cheers !

      May 22, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  12. Brian

    We are all sinners, so we shouldn't be looking to each other for guidance. Our old history books and explorers should teach us that. Truth is really what we're all talking about. What is the truth? No, not relative, or changing truth, or the "only what I want to believe" truth. What is the absolute truth? That and how we deal with it is what will count when we all pass on.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • greg

      great post, and pardon the pun but very true, these concepts of judging others by their preferences is so spiritually imature,those who do this have yet to realize the all is one,one is all concept, but in time,all will come to this realization, relax, we are eternal and just having a physical experience.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Mark

      The truth is that religion needs to stop being an excuse for ignorance.

      May 22, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  13. Edwardo

    @Adulterous Men Stand Up!- dumb analogy! If you desire to have adulterous relationships, be as honest as Don Lemon. Tell your partner, or partners your desires. What you desire is called polygamy or polyamory. As long as your honest with your partners, and they too wish to participate, GO FOR IT! Don is being honest with who he is to the world. YOUR TURN!

    May 22, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • NPA

      Not a dumb post, simply a metaphor for one trying to live a moral life vs a hedonistic, anything goes lifestyle. What's next, beastality rights?

      May 22, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • mammamia

      I find it to be a very fitting analogy! The point is without basic morals, the world runs amuck!

      May 22, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  14. gsus

    without religion and you wouldve been better off.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  15. Rich

    As a person, with a brain and a conscience and a heart, I'm tired of haters like Victoria posing as pragmatists. Instead of supporting Don Lemon for his courage and candor, she reveals her own predjudices and resentments. Believe me, lots of "sane black females wanted him," to use her parlance...and why not, he's handsome and intelligent and compassionate. Some of Mr.Lemon's attributes as a middle-aged man have been clearly "chosen," but his gayness is not one of them. He is someone I would be proud to call my friend.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  16. Better

    Beautiful article from a beautiful man. Thank you.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Mark

      Agreed.

      May 22, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  17. Edwardo

    @Victoria – You're just bitter that Don Lemon doesn't want your smelly croch. Now who can blame him for "choosing" that?!

    May 22, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  18. Perplexed

    I also thought from the first day that I saw and heard Lemon on tv that he was gay. I truly didn't care. I'm 50 and from the early 60's gays that were out of the closet were accepted in most of our communities. They are even more accepted now. It's the down low brothers that are ostricized.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Anis

      Aron, I'd be very careful about anuisccg GG about having any link with Iraq's oil for food programme.He's made some very robust defences against accusations of impropriety and frequently resorts to court action to defend his reputation.If I were you I'd either cite some evidence or prepare for a knock on the door.Perhaps the mods might want to think about this as well.After all, George has been accused of many things but I've never seen him linked to global warming before.

      October 9, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  19. Adulterous Men Stand Up!

    I have had adulterous tendancies since I was as young as 4 or 5 years of age...so many girls. I am married now, but why should I fight it any longer. I an adulterer and proud. Why can't I be happy too? God made me this way. I'm on a mission to sleep with every woman that I see. I want the laws changed to where a man can marry several women at the same time. Why can't adulterous men be happy too? I'm not hurting anyone. This article has inspired me. Who is with me?

    May 22, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • rofwe

      Great Post

      May 22, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Dante

      This is silly. If you strongly desire to sleep with lots of women you could easily marry into an open relationship. You have that choice. Gay people want the choice to marry into a relationship they can be happy in. You both can get what you want.

      The comparison is still silly because it isn't like gay people choose who they are attracted to, but you can choose to act on your impulses. A gay person that doesn't ever choose to have s3x is still gay!

      May 22, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Michael

      Mommy he took my toys....make him give it back!!!!!!!! Grow up.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • ___

      i think movie popcorn should be free

      May 22, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • The Exorcist

      I'm with the adulterer. Who are we to defy the laws of nature which dictate a man spread his seed deep and wide?

      I'm going to talk to my wife about the merits of having several more wives in a moment. Wish me luck.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • NPA

      Awesome post...you expressed my feelings on the matter

      May 22, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • mammamia

      Trying to post again...You are absolutely correct in your analogy. We were all born with sinful thoughts. It does not mean that it is in our best interest to act on them. There is no gray area in the Bible: h0m0s3xuality is a sin. (I Corinthians 6:9-10) To embrace it and actually teach it to our children is destructive to them and our society. Please understand that I do not suggest that gay people should be treated with hate, but stop trying to promote it as an acceptable lifestyle when it is not.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  20. Jasmine

    Loved the article, though I didn't get what he meant by "especially black people". Isn't the whole point of the article that people should accept themselves and that others should accept them for who they are? If that's the case, then what does color and segregation have to do with being gay? Why is it especially important for a black person and not a hispanic person, an asian person, a white person, etc.? If this is about acceptance, does that one line just make this whole article null and void?

    May 22, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Jay

      He means that there's a significant amount of discrimination towards gays in the Black community that he finds has not been owned up to.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:34 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.