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. You vs. Bible

    Your "higher power" wrote the Bible. And since He is higher, he wins and will send you to hell.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • pazke

      Man wrote the bible. Perhaps "He" told them what to write, but men wrote it. No disputing that.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Corry

      "Your "higher power" wrote the Bible." haha no...the "Stories" in the bible where written down and later published by scholars and scribes. These stories were nothing more than stories anded down by word of mouth over thousands of years in the Middle East. The first four books of the New Testament were written by the people they are named after, the rest were written by collaborations of early Christians.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Kevin

      The God a lot of Christians believe in seems to be little different from the Greek gods we consider fairy tales. Do you really think that if God exists he is such and angry and spiteful God that he'd really make people a certain way only to condemn them to hell for something that doesn't actually harm anyone? Only an insecure and less than all powerful God would be so demanding of people and so punitive when he doesn't get his way? I would think God would know the fates and outcomes of every being's lives long before they were ever born. If he doesn't know that then I'd question his abilities. If he does know that and still punishes people then he'd be no better than a child stomping on ants for fun. I doubt he's either of those things, and I highly doubt he looks so negatively at gays as someone as self righteous as you seems to do.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • klarg

      Kevin, why do you slander Zeus?

      May 22, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  2. John henry

    Disregard any other comment here, open your Bible and read it, ask God for understanding of His Word. He will show you your sins, as He did for me. Only then can you ask for forgiveness.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Do you treat your Israelite slaves well? When was the last time you burned an oxen as an offering, or are you a turtledove kind of guy?

      May 22, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Chris

      Please stop with the reading of the bible and asking for forgiveness.......I don't need any forgiveness, pity parties or sympathy from anyone. Please don't worry for me....worry about yourself instead. I know where I stand. My request is that you step back and open your mind to why any bible was written in the first place. Again my understanding, it was written by people to understand what had happened during that time period with myths, story's and legends to better our lives not only for today but for the future as well. My request also would be to remove the log out of your eye before taking the speck out of mine.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  3. Background Thought

    Good article, alot of anti-religious comments here. Best case scenario for athiests, you "live life to the fullest", we all die and nothing happens. You don't get the chance to say i told you so because you don't have a conscience or any kind of thought when you die. Worst case scenario, religions are right and you get screwed for all eternity. way to think that one out....

    May 22, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • humanity01

      sooooo your "faith" is based on one day being able to say "told you so". IF, that heaven exists, then your eternal pleasure will include knowing that you were right and people are suffering for eternity for not believing like you. SIGN ME UP CHRISTIAN.......not really.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      The Rapture did happen yesterday and God rejected all who claim to be Christians. Tough break.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Matt

      That argument will never work with atheists because it makes you seem like a coward.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Levi Justus

      Lenny Pincus, you reporting somewhere from the skies...:)

      May 22, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Background Thought

      (*sighs)... Some christians have sooooo overused the Pascal's Wager argument which is easily debunked.

      Let's assume you are right...1)there is life after death...2)there is a god/supreme being.

      There are 'count-less' scenarios in which this 'life after death' may go on. Your heaven or hell scenario is just 1 of countless.

      Pascal's Wager... for the christians is basically, I'm going to 'bet' this way...just in case. Not necessarily the best way to go through life, IMHO.


      May 22, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Joe

      Don't forget that you are also assuming that yours is the one correct religion out of the thousands found on earth. If the Muslims are right, you're going to hell. Way to think that one out.

      June 1, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
  4. Levi Justus

    Ridiculous and bogus article. This article is just to gain attention and fame. You believe gay tendencies at the age of 4?
    God forgive you Don

    May 22, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Chris

      I I also knew at 4 or 5. Please do not ask God to forgive us....as God to help you understand instead to make you future better. You comment sounds very accusatory. And so when did you change? Oh, you didn't well either did I.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Chris

      Please excuse the typos......

      May 22, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  5. Brandon

    You are a disgrace!

    May 22, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Michael

      No - YOU are. You are unable to accept truth and honesty.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  6. CJ

    Why are the black men at CNN gay? They couldn't find one straight black man? Then again, the headquarters is in ATL. UGH!

    May 22, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • TJ Holmes Disciple

      TJ is straight...shut the hell up!

      May 22, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • klarg

      Do you keep a list of who is gay? Why?

      May 22, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  7. Tim

    What an excellent article.......what honesty.......what insights this man has. It's disturbing to read "explanations" of gay, biblical justifications for those explanations. Truth is no one knows how "gay" comes about. It flies in the face of vast inspections of science. It flies in the face of the accounts of legions of people who have told their story.

    The world knows that being gay is just that.....it just is.....to shine the light of day on it serves to make known the facts.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  8. Matt

    I support gay people and their basic human rights. However, I feel like this would all be a bit easier if they could find a gay gene. Then it would be proof that it wasn't their choice to be gay. I think that is where a lot of religious people are a bit off, they view it as a choice, where as most gay people see it as who they are and to say anything different would be a lie. If it's a choice then gay people are just turning their backs on God, and therefore evil. But, if it could be proved that it isn't a choice (i.e. DNA, or something biological), then it really would be how they were "created" and the responsibility would be on God. Personally, I don't care either way if it is biological or just a personal choice. You should be able to marry who ever you want to.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Charles

      Here are a few articles that do –

      Bailey JM, Pillard RC, Dawood K, Miller MB, Farrer LA, et al. (1999)

      Camperio Ciani A, Corna F, Capiluppi C (2004)

      Dawood K, Pillard RC, Horvath C, Revelle W, Bailey JM (2000)

      Hamer DH, Hu S, Magnuson VL, Hu N, Pattatucci AML (1993)

      Hu S, Pattatucci AML, Patterson C, Li L, Fulkner DW, et al. (1995)

      King M, Green J, Osborn DPJ, Arkell J, Hetherton J, et al. (2005)

      MacIntyre F, Estep KW (1993)

      Miller EM (2000)

      Mustanski BS, DuPree MG, Nievergelt CM, Bocklandt S, Schork NJ, et al.

      Pattatucci AML (1998)

      Pillard RC, Poumadere J, Carretta RA (1981)

      Pillard RC, Poumadere J, Carretta RA (1982)

      Pillard RC, Bailey JM (1998)

      May 22, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • 1word

      It is a choice, you can have these feelings but you have to make a choice to go through with it. The most effective way to pull a person to sin is to make them believe their gay. Think about it, the Devil tempts you at a very young age to make you an abomination to the Lord.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Charles


      You are wrong. The science is starting to become overwhelming. They haven't linked orientation to one gene yet. In the end it is likely to be linked to a combination of genes. Despite the final connection not being made there are established genetic factors linked with orientation. The studies have survived have survived peer review unlike the studies that try to prove orientation is a choice.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Matt

      @Charles, thanks I'll have to look through those

      @1word. What I'm saying is that if they found an actual gene in our DNA that said whether you were gay or not. And they found that everyone who had that gene was gay. Then it would be how they were made. Made by God if you wish

      May 22, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      They have found a "stupid" gene. Quite prevalent in the US.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  9. Stephen

    This is a story that is all too familiar and it hits home. Not only did I try to "pray away the gay", I was drugged for 2 years before I had finally had enough and decided that, if we are all God's children, HE knows and he accepts me – so should I.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  10. Freedom

    If you aren't gay, then how would you know what it feels like? You didn't wake up straight. Nor does anyone wake up gay. You either hide it until you come out. Or, you live a "straight life" to please others. It's the purest form of torture to lie to ones self. I'd rather be alone for the rest of my life, than be with someone for the sake of "pleasing" church people.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  11. Carol

    Excellent article Don, everything you said is just the way it is. People will either agree with you or disagree, as well you know. This will help some people who are confused with their feelings. Unfortunately it won't change many fundamentalist believers. Our Father, Son and Holy Ghost are always with us, right?

    May 22, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • 1word

      Carol you have to Accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior for the Comforter "Holy Spirit' to come to you. You don't have it until you've made that choice to live by the word of God.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  12. M. Raymond Sheppard

    I can't even begin to express how unaware, uninformed and closed minded some of the comments on this page are.

    There may be a values gap in the heart and minds of some. If so, it is probably too big of a task to bridge this gap, but it's at least valuable for all to recognize the existence out there of values so unlike our own. having said this, Don Rocks.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • sad and confused

      to Raymond Sheppard-Loved your comment from May 22 about all the uninformed and misinterperating people. would you answer this – if there is the part in the bible about how "through Him all things are possible," then why is being straight so much easier for these people to accept then its counterpart? being Gay?i dont get it?

      July 5, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  13. Apoorv

    You're all hypocrites. You tell religious people to stop being hateful, yet you mock them and act in exactly the same manner towards them.

    And those overtly religious who are telling gays to repent and live by the Bible need to stop preaching their ways to everybody else.

    Live and let live, in my opinion. If the man chooses to be gay/is gay, let him be. It's not like it's affecting your life in any way.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • 1word

      Wrong, Don has a huge platform that is reaching children who can be saved. This conversation has hit my house. My daughter told me she's gay and I have been trying to keep her away from it, if she reads this trash then she won't make a good decision on trying to live a normal life. BEING GAY ISN'T NORMAL!

      May 22, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • What?


      This article will be the determining factor? Seriously?

      May 22, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Simon

      1word – i guess you can't let her join a women's softball team

      May 22, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • 1word

      I am trying my best to introduce her to Jesus Christ because through him all things are possible. I pray for my daughter daily, but the only way it will truely work is for you to get down on your knees yourself and give the comforter a chance to save your life.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Dave

      @1Word-I'm Catholic but that is just wrong

      May 22, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • What?


      Even Dick Cheney has said that being gay is the result of genetics. I never thought I would say this to someone but.

      You have a long way to go until you are as understanding and accepting Dick Cheney.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Wow... Nice blue-print from you on how to f-ck up your child !


      May 22, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • 1word

      Puhlease, living a gay life is a hot mess. I'm sorry but that's the truth, ya'll might think it looks cool but it doesn't.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • What?

      'Puhlease, living a gay life is a hot mess'

      Maybe it has something to do with one's family rejecting them and making them think they are flawed.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • 1word

      Being Gay is an Abomination to the Lord. I call that a HOT MESS!

      May 22, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Frank

      Being gay is not a great life. Much higher rates of depression and suicide amongst gay youth, well at least in gay youth in households where it isn't accepted.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Peace2All


      ...Isn't that kind of what a lot of this whole debate is about...? You made a great point here. Suicide and depression among gay teens... higher (because) of the ostracism, bigotry, hate, etc...


      May 22, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • Frank

      I guess a tone of irony doesn't carry well into these posts.

      May 22, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Peace2All


      You Said: "Peace2All......Puhlease, living a gay life is a hot mess. I'm sorry but that's (the truth), ya'll might think it (looks cool) but it doesn't."

      Again... you are most likely on a path to f-ck up your daughter. This whole 'hot mess' reference meaning going to hell business is baloney.

      And... no one is talking about it (looking cool). Oh...maybe that's a reference back to your 'hot mess' metaphor...?

      Wow... simply unbelievable.


      May 22, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Peace2All


      *Sorry... totally missed it. I've been bangin' my head against the wall with these bigoted fundies all day.


      May 22, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • 1word

      Committing Suicide is also a choice!

      May 22, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Peace2All


      You Said: "Committing Suicide is also a choice!"

      Again...-1word... what's your point here...? By using the word (also), you are again attempting to *infer* by presuppositi-tion that being gay is a (choice).

      You are wrong...! What I may agree with you on is whether a gay person 'chooses' to 'act' on their innate personality characteristics, however... it doesn't *mean* that being 'gay' is (bad) in any way !

      Get over yourself.


      May 22, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  14. Time2BSensible

    Tom, I concur wholeheartedly. And why do they call us judgmental/hateful? It is God who specifically called it "exchanging the natural for what is against nature," "committing what is shameful," and "their error." (Romans 1:26-27) I didn't write Romans. Those words were from God to all of us, so anyone who disagress can take it up with Him, not the messengers.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • H.Fernando

      Gott ist tot

      May 22, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      It's sickening how you take some random quote from the Bible and ram it down people's throats. Really, an all powerful, all knowing, all loving God is sending you to hell because you're gay? What a load of goo. If you pick and choose from the Bible, every wealthy person is going to hell. Every person who works on Sunday is going to hell. Anyone who eats a four legged bird is going to hell. If you do bad by your neighbor, burn an ox. I haven't seen anyone offer sacrifices recently. According to the Bible, God will kill you if you use the wrong incense. Or curse your parents. If you're blind you can't be a priest. Treat your Israelite slaves well, but do what you want with the rest of them. Why aren't you people amking a bunch of noise about governments making slavery illegal, when the Bibil not only condones it but regulates it? Actually I know why. Because the hypocrisy would make your heads explode.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  15. Born Gay

    Certainly unbiased scientific studies exist on this very subject yet if they were exposed out in the open, just think of the consequences it would have on having to change one's way of thinking and the implications to current law. That's why they're not exposed (at least not just yet!)

    But for more on the questions of whether Gays are born that way, etc., here is a great website!


    May 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  16. Karen KT

    Don, I'm so sad to read this post b/c I hate to think of the inner turmoil and confusion and depression you must have suffered as a child. I am a teacher, and I cannot imagine the difficulties it must have put on other areas of your life such as school. It is indeed a testament to you and your MaMe that you were able to get through life and emerge such an amazing, successful, and put-together guy. So glad you came out on CNN and so happy for your happiness.

    May 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Karen KT

      Well said...


      May 22, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Karen KT

      @Peace2All, thank you. I scrolled back to see if any responses came in, and yours is all I need. I'm so sick of seeing the anti-gay going back and forth in this forum with the pro-gay, same with the Christian/anti-gay and the Christian/OkGay.
      Controversy is controversy and moral issues will never be solved because we all have a right to our own opinions, and that goes for morals too. I don't even have to say where I stand b/c this forum is not for that. It's for responding to Mr. Lemon, and that's what I did. It just makes my heart sad to know kids go through such confusion when they are too young to make sense of it. Amazing to hear success stories like Don's.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  17. thatdude

    I understand where this guy is coming from, but that's a bold statement and also a false one, saying that such events are metaphoric... but anyways... I still believe that some are born with gay/lesbian tendencies, just as others might be born with more of an urge to be a serial killer than someone else. We are all sinners and all have problems, and all need grace. No one is perfect, but Christ's blood takes the place of perfection for us. Some will die with gay/lesbian tendencies but if they abide in Christ, they don't have anything to worry about. Christ came to redeem all from all walks of life...

    May 22, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Peace2All


      You Said: "I understand where this guy is coming from, but that's a bold statement and also a (false) one, saying that such events are (metaphoric)..."

      They most likely 'are' metaphoric. The only reason I say 'most-likely' instead of 'definitely, is I don't want to sound like you christians, that seem to think you are 'absolutely' right. 'Talking Snakes'... 'Living in the belly of a whale'...?!?!?! Come on...get real here. Remember, beliefs are not necessarily = to absolute facts.

      You Said: "I still believe that some are born with gay/lesbian tendencies, just as others might be born with more of an urge to be a "(serial killer)" than someone else."

      Hmmm..... Nice choice with the analogy there -thatdude. Interesting... out of the count-less things you could have equated gay/lesbian tendencies to, your choice was...."serial killer."

      I guess that shows how you unconsciously believe. Wow !!!!



      May 22, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  18. Ron

    You are who you are. Don't let anyone or any religion tell you otherwise!
    Being gay in this country is not for the weak.

    May 22, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  19. Bryan

    It has always amazed me that people use the Bible to justify hate. Being gay is perfectly okay. I have many gay friends. Everyone has the right to be who they are. If you choose to be a Christian that is your personal choice. No one should try to convert people to their religion. It bothers me that people do this.

    The Bible was written by people who translated it the way they saw fit. I grew up in church like most people. I won the national Bible Quiz. The more I learned about the Bible (outside of church) the more it became clear that Christians do not have all the answers. They use certain chapters and verses to preach hate.

    Being gay is not a sin. People love who they love. I look forward to the day when America is more like Amsterdam. People there are so happy and they believe that you live and let live.

    May 22, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • ghunt

      If one is jumping off a bridge and I say, "oh he is okay, that is fine" Do I love that person? If someone is working toward an eternity in hell and I say, oh, what they are doing is fine, do I love that person? Your view of what love is is very skewed. Your opinion of what is and isn't okay will matter little for them on judgment day.

      May 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Bryan

      God is too big to fit into one religion.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • ghunt

      God is not a relativist Bryan and surely you are wrong about some things. What if you are wrong about this. Eternity is a long time.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Bryan

      What if you are wrong ghunt? One day God is going to come back and say, "THIS IS NOT WHAT I FREAKING MEANT."

      May 22, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  20. ghunt

    My faith, how I learned to interpret the Bible to make me feel good about myself instead a sinner in need of the savior of the world's mercy.

    May 22, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • So...

      Have you ever looked up your screen name on Urban Dictionary, or is that the point?

      May 22, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • ghunt

      That is my interpretation of this article.

      May 22, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • So...

      I sort of equated it to your posts more than that.

      May 22, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Nicole

      No, it is a common sense rejection of doctrines that perpetuate hate. The Bible was inspired by God but written by men who had their own objectives. It is important to rise above the imperfections of man and love all as Jesus did.

      May 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • ghunt

      Nicole, you might as well throw your bible out. It is useless. Telling the truth is not hate. I have sins that I need to be convicted of as well.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
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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.