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. Corey

    I must disagree with Don. Let me preface this by saying I don't believe in Religion. I only believe GOD. I respect a Gay Persons position and his/her lifestyle. We can interact on a daily basis even outside of work if it was so. I would not call him/her deragatory names as we all have SIN and have SINFUL natures therefore I am not one to cast a "proverbial stone." But to say that you have quit in your fight against that which goes against the word of God and is backed up by the natural order of life and creation is liken to say, and on a personal note, that I should stop praying for my addiction to alcohol. Where does the quitting stop Don? I heard a wise man said that Sin was fun.....I mean after all if it was not fun we would not do it. The bottom line is that we ALL have an internal battle as we ALL were created imperfect. But the Glory of the Creator is manifested when a person fights the good fight even if he/she falls from time to time. Just my two cents and nothing but love from Louisiana.

    May 22, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • Enoch100


      May 22, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • Newyorker

      Believing in God does not automatically make you a good person. Religion is too often used as an excuse by evil or ignorant people to justify their evil or ignorance.

      May 22, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • Newyorker

      And who made you an authority on the word of God? The Bible, or just your arrogance?

      May 22, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • Corey

      @New Yorker I am not authority on the Bible, Torah or Quran. But know that you are not dealing with a fool either. The world that we live in is delusional and sick..... rewarding good for evil and evil for good. We associate "popularity" to morality then wonder why we live in the most wealthiest Nation on the planet but or unhappy. My alcoholism and the gayness that is WRONG are only FIXES for reality. But regardless of a persons shortcoming the MOST DANGEROUS area is when he/she is DENIAL and does not SEE that he/she has a problem. Thats where this article is dangerous. Yes I can be your friend if you are GAY as you could be mine being an ALCOHOLIC but let's not sit there and lie to one another about our ism for self gratification. After all a real friend would not do so.

      May 22, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • Fordham Jock

      "most wealthiest Nation on the planet but or unhappy".
      From the looks of it, we ARE dealing with a fool. Turn on your grammar check, idiot.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  2. GB

    I'm so happy for Don Lemon that he has come out and can finally be himself. (Although I'm a little sad, as a straight woman, because I thought he was cute!)

    While he is taking a risk that it might affect his career, I think in this day and age it is a small one.

    However, there is a big difference between his case and certain other journalists who haven't come out. Lemon is an anchor (a very talented anchor and one of my favorites). He is not in the field in potentially hostile places. Certain other journalists are out in Haiti, in Egypt, etc, in places where they could be killed if people knew they were gay. It really sucks that someone feels they should have to stay in the closet, or at least refuse to answer the question, but safety comes first, so I get it.

    May 22, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  3. Kelvin Kibler

    I am amazed that we are claiming our sins as ourselves. Sin is sin whether it be adultery, stealing, our lustful behaviors. We as christians are to seek God's forgiveness and ask for strength to help us not make the same sinful choices. We are not our sins. Everyone and I mean everyone struggles with his or her own sins. These sins should not define who we are. Therefore we can love the person but hate the sin and not worry about being a bigot or hateful.

    May 22, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Shannon

      I agree. Everyone has their own thing to work through in this life. I completely understand Mr. Lemon's frustration with the constant struggle to overcome frivolous and unprofitable habits that have been with him for as long as he can remember. We all can relate to the perceived unfairness of our existence and the unfruitful desires we are plagued with. I can also understand why, though I am saddened, that he's given up the fight for freedom from worthless longings and decided to live the guilt-free life of the blameless victim. It's much easier, and very unfortunate, to be able to stand back and say that everyone else has the issue, but I'm fine the way I am. This way, you free yourself from the responsibility of your actions. I've struggled with similar issues myself more than once and I've been tempted beyond measure to walk blindly down that path that leads to no recrimination and ultimately, no redemption. Fortunately, I would rather have every bad thing I do be seen and declared as bad, than to fool myself for one moment that I'm better than what I really am. My heart breaks at this dissertation of one man's inability to deal with and, regrettably, his submission to his personal demons deceitfully wrapped in the guise of a need for social reform.

      May 22, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  4. Schmit

    He who has an ear to hear, let him hear..

    "...until I started attending college in New York. That's when common sense began to take hold..."

    May 22, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  5. adrienne resnick

    Who cares what Don Lemon is. I don't bother gays and they don't bother me. He doesn't have to justify his feelings to anyone.

    May 22, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Eric

      Yeah he does, because a large percentage of the country thinks his lifestyle is a sin and because law prohibits him from marrying who he loves.

      May 22, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  6. LG

    Some "gay people" are not so innocent. Can we still "prey away" the ones who like to victimize???

    May 22, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Chicken Little

      Maybe, just like the straight ones who like to victimize.

      May 22, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • JesusSaidLoveThyGayNeighbor

      Like the GOP's Larry Craig and Mark Foley?

      May 22, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • mollyd

      Are we including priests here??????

      May 22, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • CLIF

      ahhh your ironic misuse of "prey" lol.

      as long as we can pray away backwards-thinking straight people 😉

      May 22, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • jaybee

      gays victimizing? victimizing who? what are you talking about?

      May 22, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • JoLynn

      LG – do not confuse "gay" with "predator" or "pedophile".
      Many grown men who pray on underage boys for example do not consider themselves gay, in confessions they often think they are doing a great service showing the child the ways of the world.
      So don't cheapen anyone who lives a gay lifestyle with a comparison like that.

      May 22, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • MM

      I love it when uneducated individuals are taught how to type and given a microphone!!! Shouldn't you be in church right now?

      May 22, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  7. Karen

    Don Lemon has clearly demonstrated courage and intergrity by "coming out". It is a shame that he had to suffer, as most gays do until that point. His life now will not be problem free, but he will have more peace because of his choice to acknowledge who he is really. Good for you Mr. Lemon!

    May 22, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • JT

      And there lies the problem. Why couldn't he just be? Why the Book, The Web Article, The TV Interview. Instead of being a news anchor, now he will be forever the GAY new anchor! He differentiated himself!

      May 22, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • mollyd

      What a beautiful piece. He is so right. Good for him and yes, God bless him.

      May 22, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Cee

      Expressed beautifully, Karen. I wish Don Lemmon all the best.

      May 22, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • miche

      @JT, you're not from Louisiana are you?

      May 22, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • JT

      miche...I live down the street from you!

      May 22, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  8. Jaz*

    This was beautifully written, I felt like I was ready thoughts from my own heart and mind. Amazing =]

    May 22, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  9. MiaPerine

    I KNEW HE WAS GAY! Been saying it for over a year. Anderson is too. BUT SO WHAT?!!!

    May 22, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • pleasedotell

      Anderson – I REFUSE TO HEAR SUCH LIES!!!!!NO!!!!!!

      May 22, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  10. Kish

    It is important to understand that being religious and having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ are two different things.

    You were involved in many different religious ways, but you were never exposed to the true God. The Bible is God's Word. It is rich and powerful and it has endured through good and bad times. It was here before us and it will be here after we leave this earth.

    Be Careful that you are not deceiving yourself-There are some things that the Bible state are clearly wrong. God is loving, gentle and kind-he wants to protect you–not condemn you. But he will always give you the truth and allow you to make your own decisions.

    Know who your enemy is--It is surely not God!!!...He love you!!!

    May 22, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Simon

      Be careful YOU are not deceiving yourself. The bible has been changed over and over since it was first written.
      Know what you're talking about before you start preaching and judging others!

      May 22, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • JesusSaidLoveThyGayNeighbor

      What a contradictory rant. Is this the schizophrenic Jesus? What is that last line? Hate thine enemy because Jesus loves you??

      May 22, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Norman

      Poor, gullible Kish-the bible was written by man of course-that is historical fact-I mean, you dont really think God ordered women to marry their rapists in Deutornomoy do you?
      Or Jesus ordered kids to be put to death for cursing their parents in mathew 18, do you?
      The REAL God just wants us to love one another-thats it-if He exists, he doesnt care about cutting your hair or eatign shellfish...

      May 22, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  11. rebecca

    I think that alot of people miss that we came to America seeking the freedom of choice. What a bunch of hypocrits, you wave your American flag and wag your finger at someone who is seeking the freedom to love who they feel they should love.

    May 22, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  12. Tom

    Who cares about him being gay? The bigger issue is his unabashed liberal politics that he brings into every interview. Plus, worst of all, this guy INTERRUPTS and TALKS OVER his guests. It's hugely unprofessional and annoying. Activists like him give journalism a bad name, and I'm a liberal!

    May 22, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • Bill

      your remark COMPLETELY MISSES THE MARK and TENOR of what Mr. Lemon is talking about. You are just "SOUNDING OFF" because you have the free time and anti-progressive or liberal disposition. THIS IS NOT THE PLACE FOR THAT

      May 22, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Norman

      Tom, imbecile, the point of teh article is that he is gay-many gays are only lib because republicans try to take our rights away
      Thank God the republican religious guard dies off every year-the GOP will die unless they embrace gay righst for all-just a matter of time

      May 22, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  13. Is "Black Atheist" an oxymoron?

    Don makes an excellent point how religious teachings and practices can be damaging. He renounced organized religion, its teachings and reasoning, yet he stops short of announcing that he is an atheist. He states that he believes in "higher power". Just what is the higher power? Please clarify. Define "higher power". I am not being sarcastic, I simply don't know what you are referring to.

    May 22, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • Norman

      Millions of people believe in a higher power but no organized religion. Organized religion, all sects, are false and created by man when you do any study. I too have studied all religions, found tehm to be false, but still believe in God. God is, after much research, a deity taht just wants us to love one another-pretty simple

      May 22, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Rickote

      Well, he didn't dig enough just yet. I have been studying religions all my life and conclude that all are mostly garbage for the weak mind. Religion is a fairy tale response to the unknown, then if you remove the fairy tail, there is just unknown. If you can deal with the unknown then and only then you will be, with math accuracy, right. This debates are good for religous people, that they certainly have their doubts, so they can keep digging. The true thing is that once you realize and acept you know nothing, is not pretty.

      May 22, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  14. Jay

    If you want to take the religious route here; God created all of us. Why would God give us life an then say we cannot live it? This is my personal belief and everyone is here for a reason. No Devil at play here. Those who use religion to hate, persecute and keep people down, have blood on their hands and will pay the price for it. Those who are ignorant enough to quote scriptures and take them out of context will also be punished. Those who love to throw around the "abomination" should know the true meaning of the word at the time. For example, eating pork & shellfish was considered an abomination. There are many things in the bible that have been conveniently ignored, like the fact that any man who works on the sabbath should be put to death. How about Leviticus 25:44 which states that I may possess slaves, both male and female provided they are purchased from neighboring states. You do not need to follow religion to believe in God and God would want us to love each other and the earth that was given to us instead of destroying each other with hate and poisoning the planet and all life. Let's take all this negative energy and work towards a better world. We can start here at home by trying to fight for jobs, the environment, etc....the real evils that are destroying us all.

    May 22, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • Noreen Annette Cardinale

      I could not have said it better.

      May 22, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • JesusSaidLoveThyGayNeighbor

      Kudos Jay. It's too bad some politicians, usually on the right, harness religious hate for their own gain.

      May 22, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • B Jordan

      Amen! Wonderful post.

      May 22, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Anonymous

      Reasonable minds disagree over the same set of facts everyday...

      May 22, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  15. Frank C

    Don- When I first heard about this story, I was surprised. We are conditioned early on to be a standard. Growing up as a child, I learned discrimination in school. Not from teacher but from other children. I was not born in this country and emigrated when I was 10 years old. I did not know what discrimination was until I experienced it and practice it. I as grew older, I recognized the absurdity and the harm it causes by singling out a groups of people. I am big fan of CNN and all of the anchors and will continue to be. I applaud you for your courage, bottom line nothing has changed. You are still the same professional anchor I have come to admire. Thanks

    May 22, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  16. Bill

    Don: YOURS is my story in so many ways. I am also Black and grew up in the same time period and ...as a minister's youngest son. You are doing INCREDIBLE WORK.....helping ME and so many others in OUR GENERATION...and in the TODAY's generation of young people who have been bullied and threatened. GOD BLESS YOU DON LEMON

    May 22, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  17. JudgeNotLestYeBeJudgedAndSmoteByTheHandOfGod

    Ever wonder how many of the self-righteous, religious bigots posting anti-gay poison here are devout Catholics who turn a blind eye towards their own pedophile priests?

    May 22, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • anonymous

      As a practicing Catholic, I have seen more in my church who are supportive of gay rights, even to the point of having church support groups (not attempting to turn them straight) as well as gay lectors and music ministers in the church. While the scandal associated with the pedophile priests cannot and should not be ignored, continually bashing catholics for the sins of a select few is ridiculous. Any profession that lends itself to the access of children is bound to attract those willing to hurt them :Boy scouts, any sort of youth sports, etc.

      Back to the article, I'm glad that you found some peace and acceptance. I think you are absolutely correct in your belief that God accepts us as we are and the select few that feel the need to profess hatred because of difference should learn tolerance and acceptance.

      May 22, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • JudgeNotLestYeBeJudgedAndSmoteByTheHandOfGod

      I think I'd want to be "anonymous" too if I brushed off pedophilia as a perk of the trade. You epitomize my point!!

      May 22, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • anonymous

      I'm not sure how I brushed off your point considerning I addressed it. I believe what I said is not to blame an entire people for the sins of a select few.

      May 22, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  18. Happily Married

    Let me say first, to each his own... I grew up for most of my life believeing I was gay, and involved with other men for over a decade. I was unhappy and unfulfilled. Though I believed I was BORN gay, I knew I didn't choose to be gay. However, after a LOT of soul-searching, I met a woman who I fell in love with. I have been happily married for almost 20 years, and no longer think about or desire other men. We have kids, a family and I have never been happier or more fulfilled in my life. I changed not because of anyone else, but ME. I also found many other people around the country who have done the same. So, I take task with Don on many of his points... we were both in the same shoes - I prayed, but I put feet to those prayers - and they were answered.

    May 22, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • FYI

      you're bi

      May 22, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Noreen Annette Cardinale

      But you want to put everyone in a box and make everything so simple, life is not that way. What is simple is what Jesus said to YOU, "Do not Judge others". There is a reason for this, and that goes along with what Jesus also said, "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do". So, I am happy for you that you found a way to live life and be happy for yourself. But the point you are missing is that that does not mean being gay is wrong, or evil. It only means YOU and as you point out, others, chose a different road.

      May 22, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • John 3:16

      Happily Married, thank you so much for your post. Your story absolutely PROVES beyond ALL DOUBT. That you were NOT born that way because if you were, it would be IMPOSSIBLE for you to ever desire a woman. Would you mind very much if I copied and saved your testimony sir?

      May 22, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • JesusSaidLoveThyGayNeighbor

      It sounds like your confusion reflects the religious guilt put on gays in our society. And, as with many closeted individuals your saga may not be over. 😉

      May 22, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • Agnim

      You are one of the fortunate ones.
      Count your blessings; because it is obvious that many (Don included) are far sicker in mind and lost than you were.

      May 22, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I agree with the person who said you are probably bi. You are an individual, you don't speak for all. I have g-ay and le-sbian friends who have tried to live as heterose-xuals, but in the end they only hurt themselves and their partner.

      There is ample proof that efforts to "cure" people of their hom-ose-xuality have a high rate of failure. Orientation isn't a choice for most people, but bigotry, be it faith- or fear-based IS a choice.

      May 22, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • Quinton

      Let me say this first, to each his own...I was a ugly swan, and I thought that I was born this way. I prayed and prayed that the Great Goose would change me. One day, I put feet on those prayers and went and looked in the pond and saw that I was a beautiful swan. See I can make stories up too...

      May 22, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Amunaka

      To..Happily Married"""

      Why is it I don't believe you....

      May 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • 1word

      I commend you on that, so did you accept Jesus Christ to change?

      May 22, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  19. B Jordan

    There is a church that accepts EVERYONE it is the Unitarian Universalist Church. It is a place for people of all faiths and back grounds to come together and worship as humans. We respect everyone's rights. Check it out. "God" loves all. http://www.uua.org/ I pray that someday in America EVERYONE will have equal rights and religion will be taken out of our government as our founding father's originally wanted.

    May 22, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • christrevolution

      Just wondering. It's the main focus of that Church to save people, or is it to become a popular church that people like?

      May 22, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • Moonlander

      @ Chritrevolution:
      I would ask you the same thing about your church, but that would be just rude.

      May 22, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Margot707

      "It's the main focus of that Church to save people" Save people from what? Hypocrisy and bigotry maybe.

      May 22, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  20. Jessicai

    As a non-believer, I think this article made a great point about Christians needing to see the Bible more as a moral code or guide, rather than literal truth. That is the reason that I choose not to be a part of religion and I am always pleasantly surprised to hear Christians make educated, rational arguments like above. Wish there were more of you out there...

    May 22, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
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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.