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. mike in chicago

    #1) The article is relevant because he's speaking from the perspective of a man who also is gay and black.

    #2) The article is relevant because there has been a lot of…speculation…about how those two communities politically interact, especially after the Prop. 8 vote in CA

    #3) On a side note, while I don't personally agree with the idea of organized religion, we all have the right to choose to believe as we will. To say that we shouldn't have churches is like saying we shouldn't have dry cleaners. Just because all of us don't patronize them doesn't mean they're not useful to anyone at all.

    May 22, 2011 at 5:06 am |
    • JayNYC

      We probably shouldn't have either. They both pollute the environment! 😀

      May 22, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  2. Robin

    Don, when I first read about your "coming out of the closet" in your book, I was kinda stymied...why was it such a big deal? Then it hit me. This is HUGE! The fact that you're confessing you're gay, really is NO BIG DEAL; I still admire your skill as a journalist, look forward to seeing you on CNN. I think the majority of people out there feel the same, and the other 30% are the same 30% who are going to disagree with you on any single issue no matter what it may be. American society has made that monumental shift in perspective regarding the gay community; however, if you experience some measure of catharsis, some spiritual or personal healing, then this need to be open and honest has served its purpose, and I wish you only the best. 🙂

    May 22, 2011 at 5:06 am |
  3. Victor


    May 22, 2011 at 5:02 am |
  4. Robin

    Thank you very much for what you have done. I have great respect for you.

    May 22, 2011 at 5:02 am |
  5. Jay Barnett

    Nice! Not only does Don Lemon get to decide what God is really saying, he gets to decide what I tell my children about what God says – because I'm abusing them if I don't tell them that Don Lemon speaks for God!

    One more reason CNN sucks.

    May 22, 2011 at 4:59 am |
    • ADT

      Hmm, yu seem to be fascinated with with their anchor, my take, if you don't like the juice take it out of your fridgidaire. Additionally, society crys out against gays but these our the same people who drink, smoke cigarettes, go to casinos, and watch football on sunday no less, I say none of these would be right in gods eyes, so tell your children that too.

      May 22, 2011 at 5:14 am |
    • Tricia Sturgeon

      So if your teaching your children predjuce, bigotry, and discrimination does that mean YOUR speaking for God/?

      May 22, 2011 at 5:21 am |
    • dalis

      @ Jay Are you rethinking that whole every-man-his-own-pope proposition?

      May 22, 2011 at 5:29 am |
    • Todd

      You are the one who SUCKS.... not CNN.

      May 22, 2011 at 7:24 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      'Not only does Don Lemon get to decide what God is really saying, he gets to decide what I tell my children about what God says '
      what? how did you get to 'he decides'? you hate for hates sake dont you?

      May 22, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • Uplander

      Jay Barnett, what you teach your children is not anyone's business. But what if you learn, someday, that one of those children is gay? Are you going to you going to tell them they're going to Hell? Sadly, I think I already know your answer. If I do, that child just might be one of the suicide cases we've heard about so much recently.

      May 23, 2011 at 2:30 am |
    • Jarod1994

      God I hate God.

      May 23, 2011 at 4:19 am |
  6. Rex

    Thank you Don. The more we know, the more we grow, and eventually learn to accept. You are helping so many if us.

    May 22, 2011 at 4:59 am |
  7. Name*rob

    The society in general in the great US has never been able to accept unconditionally others different which is why we call it tolerance instead of what it should be called acceptance and love

    May 22, 2011 at 4:53 am |
    • Huh?

      You should not force people to accept. People could live with certain situations, that does not mean we have to accept them. That doesn't mean we hate individuals who are gay. Stop trying to let people with genuine morals look like the wicked ones while making the gays the victims.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • Patricia

      That's what I think relgion is actually meant to do – teach us acceptance and love. I am not religious but that is how I live, with all my heart I stand up against bigotry and judgmentalism. It's important to accept the way that others live – without judgment and criticism- so that we can live in harmony with each other..

      May 22, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • 14year-old voice of reason

      I know you are sooo upset about how people are attacking you but I'd like to point out gays ARE the vitims. You aren't the one being bullied, ostrasized, abandoned, beaten, or forced into committing suicide. Acceptence should be part of being a decent humanbeing as well as being a proper christian.

      May 23, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • Frogist

      @Huh: No matter how "genuine" your morals are it doesn't make them right. Your morality has hom-ophobic tendencies. That is neither tolerable nor acceptable in modern society.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
  8. pugs

    Don you rock! I am not a big fan of most organized religions as they tend to get the principles wrong and twisted . I also think the current trend of spiteful, outspoken atheists are just as bad (though I understand the backlash). Good people come from all creeds, and zealots ruin us all. I have my PhD and my faith. I love science and statistics, but also embrace my spiritual side. It takes a lot of guts for a newscaster who we see everyday to come out with something so personal. Cheers and bless you mate!~ a very moving piece.

    May 22, 2011 at 4:43 am |
  9. Tommy Hullette

    If I followed Mr. Lemon, I suppose I should stop praying about other things that are "natural to me" (like lying, desiring what others have, getting angry when I don't get what I want). Mr. Lemon is not a victim of genuine Christianity, but a victim of professing Christians who have forgotten that they naturally resist God's truth every bit as much as everybody else (straight and gay).

    May 22, 2011 at 4:42 am |
    • The Light

      @Tommy Hullette: i agree with your statement, genuine christianity teaches us in clear terms what is wrong/right. My personal believe is people choose to be what they are, if not how would you explain a straight person that suddenly discovers he/she is gay. Fellows, someone should start thinking being gay is purely a Psyciatric/psycological issue and these people need urgent expert medical help, the same way a bi-polar person would require medical help.

      Oh and yes, i do have gay friends and i don't hate gay people!!!

      May 22, 2011 at 5:07 am |
    • Info

      @The Light

      "My personal believe is people choose to be what they are, if not how would you explain a straight person that suddenly discovers he/she is gay. Fellows, someone should start thinking being gay is purely a Psyciatric/psycological issue and these people need urgent expert medical help, the same way a bi-polar person would require medical help."

      people don't just suddenly discover their gay, they hide it because the way society and family treat them. Did you just suddenly decide you like women? You were born that way and so were they, there is no sudden choice. Science has proven that's not a choice and it's natural, it happens to animals in the wild and it happens to us. Society is slowly accepting that it's none of our business who likes what gender or what they do in their bedrooms. It's not a mental issue nor is it a choice and it never has been.

      May 22, 2011 at 6:08 am |
    • Rick Smith

      For "The Light". I'm amazed at these bigots who say gay people have something wrong with them, and in the next breath claim to have gay friends. My first guess is they are lying about the gay friends, and if not, have they told these "friends" what they are thinking and saying about gay people?

      May 22, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  10. Charlie Brown aka Carlos Cafe

    It takes courage to do what you've done. Wish you nothing but happiness.

    Still think it blows the way CNN pushed aside on the night of Bin Laden breaking news.

    May 22, 2011 at 4:41 am |
  11. alan

    Same mentality that "He will grow out of it" – "pray it away". I TRULY KNOW HOW IT FEELS. I just "Keep it inside" , but your words certainly bring tears of joy and emotional freedom to mind.

    May 22, 2011 at 4:39 am |
  12. Mom of Three

    Every one that comes out gives courage to someone else to live their truth. I admire your courage.

    May 22, 2011 at 4:33 am |
  13. cal

    I really think everything would be bettter if we didn't have churches at all....eveybody free to belive and enjoy whatever religion they choose. The church itself is just a building people flock to so others can 'see' them and they can say 'i went to church' and it frequently involves finger-pointing aimed at those that aren't there.
    Good people go to church, good people don't go to church...but for reasons the folks that do feel they live on a higher moral plain than those who don't. That's wrong and shows an intolreance of another's right to live a lawful life, and in too many cases its displayed as downright ignorance of the world outsude the closed doors of that building they call a church.

    May 22, 2011 at 4:28 am |
    • john

      peoples hearts would still be wicked if the buildings were gone. people acted like this way before religion and will be the EXACT way hundreds of years from now when God has been long forgotten

      May 22, 2011 at 4:32 am |
    • TheCaribQueen

      be quiet!

      May 22, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  14. Cat MacLeod

    Ouch! I sometimes am concerned about how I make fun of religious people who talk to invisible men in the sky, that the activity of mindlessly following nonsense isn't really harmful. Then I hear stories like this and realize once again how dangerous religion really is. Damn what a tortured childhood.

    May 22, 2011 at 4:27 am |
    • john

      if i thought people were crazy and i spent all my time making fun of them, id be a bit concerned too

      May 22, 2011 at 4:30 am |
    • Dog MacLeod

      Churchgoers are not praying to invisible men in the sky. Jesus was an alien. Greek, Egyptian, Roman myths are actually true. They (the aliens, our ancestors) are coming back 2087. Google Zecharia Sitchin.
      Oh, and good luck to the gay dudes, so sorry society persecutes you'll so much. . . it's just ignorance and intolerance.

      May 22, 2011 at 4:52 am |
    • leelanau

      Jesus said, "Lucky is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion becomes human. And foul is the human that the lion will eat, and the lion still will become human."

      May 23, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • KC

      leelanau thanks for pointing out that Jesus was gay! He was and thats why he died on the cross for sodomy.

      May 23, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  15. jesse

    Actually Aaron, it does. It's highlighting the discrimination that the black community went through in previous generations to give a direct corrilation to the discrimination the gay/bi/lesbian population currently recieves. The article does appear to be more aimed at the black community though and that part I do object with.

    May 22, 2011 at 4:26 am |
  16. Joseph Fedock

    Thank you for having the courage to write and articulate the truth, for the truth shall set you free. You are helping more people than you can imagine.

    May 22, 2011 at 4:22 am |
  17. valleydre

    Christ's message was of love. In it's purest form, love seeks first to understand and then to be understood, primarily. Choice in acceptance is a given, carte blance. Hate is forbidden, choice is admonished. Wasn't Ghandi the one who said the worst representatives of Christianity were Christians?

    May 22, 2011 at 4:19 am |
    • grant

      love in its purest of forms is to FIRST love God and to love God is to love his word and his commands, and to SECOND, love others as yourself. love doesnt coddle. love tells the truth. love tells the truth even when it knows that the person will hate them for telling it, because they wont like it..... but they must tell them, because they love them, and the person is headed for destruction with some sort of action they are doing. not speaking of any action specificially. love is bold. but patient kind and understanding. and im sorry to tell you, Ghandi was wrong. "Jesus sheep hear his voice and follow him." "I will be there God and they will be my people. i will cause them to walk in my statutes. I will sprinkle water on them and they will be clean." the problem is that the ones your calling "christians" arent all the christians. on that day they will say "lord lord" and he will say "depart i never knew you."

      May 22, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  18. Cincinnati748

    The words written here are also my testimony after leaving the black Pentecostal church and the rampant abuse I suffered. The words written by Mr Lemon, confirms that I am not alone in my thinking in regards to black church and how they interpert the bible and how one must live their life on their own terms.

    May 22, 2011 at 4:18 am |
  19. humanist

    Don, sorry you hat to go through all that. The reality is the Christan god doesn't exist. None of the religions are real. They're all just part of anthropological phenomenon to fill the need for us humans to have a false sense of security in the world filled with so many uncertainties and unknowns. They're all just tools used by bigots to maintain a world order to their liking.

    May 22, 2011 at 4:18 am |
  20. Loren

    I very much appreciate this essay. But why do so many people, like this author, continue to give any credit to the Bible at all, when it so clearly has shown itself to be mythological? Yes, there may be a higher power, but the Bible is not the place to search for insights about it. If a god had inspired the Bible, it would be accurate in all it's details. It's time to push it off its pedestal.

    May 22, 2011 at 4:18 am |
    • humanist


      May 22, 2011 at 4:19 am |
    • john

      the bible is full of insight. its ridiculous how much wisdom is in there. You sound like the priests that burned the maya books because they thought they were the devils work.

      May 22, 2011 at 4:28 am |
    • Jonathan Barlar

      "mythological" ? Can you give some examples of how you know its a myth & the inaccuracies you claim are in the Bible.

      May 22, 2011 at 4:45 am |
    • Name*Chedar

      Jonathan, Just ask what s talking snake is doing in the Bible.

      May 22, 2011 at 5:00 am |
    • humanist

      @Jonathan, can you show us objectively verifiable evidence of god? Definition of "myth": a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature. Sounds like your Christian god to me...mythological.

      May 22, 2011 at 5:04 am |
    • Jonathan Barlar

      @humanist, I didn't ask if God existed, I asked Loren for examples of the Bible that are a myth or inaccurate.
      Do you believe that the Bible is a completely fictional book?

      May 22, 2011 at 6:26 am |
    • humanist

      @Jonathan, god is the most central example of myth in the bible. Bible is a collection of humanly written books, humanly selected. However divinely inspired, humans are fallable and have motivations in their writing and selection. Even today, the collection of books vary in the bilbe Catholics use versus those used by Protestants...human selection. Bible incorporates historical names and places in their stories. Some of the stories are probably real, some are probably embellished, some are probably not real. Most of the stories however, are second to the god and Jesus character, that should transcend time and be objectively verifiable today if real. But they're not objectively verifiable today, and thus don't don't exist and aren't real.

      May 22, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • TheCaribQueen

      Loren, you will be judged by the same God of the Bible. Get your life in order.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • JayNYC

      @ john - Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus is also full of insight. We don't pray to it.

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

      then Loren has nothing to worry about.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • Max

      Jonathan Barlar,
      You ask for inaccuracies. Here's an elementary one that's been pretty central to Christian Theology- The Virgin Birth . This particular concept became accepted as a result of the Gospel writers reading a mistranslation of the word "young woman" in the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible. In the original Hebrew the word young woman (almah) was used- not virgin(bethulah) Instead of translating using the Greek term for young woman the translators used the Greek term for virgin. Why they made this error is open for debate given that the idea of the divine insemination of a virgin was foreign to the original Jewish writers but was common within the Greek culture of the Septuagint translators (the greek god Zeus was constantly impregnating innocent, unsuspecting virgins, sometimes in the guise of a bull, and sometimes as a golden shower of coins). Unfortunately the writers of the gospels weren't sharp enough with their translation skills to pick up on the error, allowing it along with other inaccuracies to infect their texts and propagate throughout the entire corpus of Christian Theology. However one wants to smooth out this textual wrinkle one has to contend with the very real possibility that this aspect of Christianity was born of a pagan insemination of a Jewish prophetic text. cheers, God-fearing Atheist

      July 14, 2011 at 3:15 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.