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. hiawa23

    Great Story. I like Don, always thought he was gay, no probs here, as someone bbeing gay doesn't affect my life at all, & I think anyone should be able to marry & partner with anyone they want. It's none of your business what others do, so stop judging. I thought I saw a wedding ring on Don's his finger when he does the news. I think what Don said is what alot of people are going through or has gone through. I am not a believer that there is some ghost in the sky that grants wishes, & prayers really do absolutely nothing. What happens in our lives happens, is going to happen, good or bad, whether you say no prayer, 1000. I think someone or force created all this but I doubt he is sitting up in the clouds taking notes of everything we do in our lives. Reiligious folks are some of the biggest hipocrites out there, & there sure is alot of so called religious folks killing other folks then quote scriptures from anyone of the fairy tale books, like God told them to do this. No one told those Muslim extremist to fly planes into the Trade Towers. Seems to me the Bible, the Koran, & any other book is just that books with stories, man interpretation, & like they said ask 5 different people looking at the same thing & each will tell yo something different, so I don't believe in any of that stuff. I wish Don all the well & no one should have to hide who they are.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • hiawa23

      I always wondered if Anderson Cooper was gay cause I am not sure if he has a ring on his finger, seems kind of odd cause he is good looking man, but never speaks about a lady in his life, or kids. It's not important either way to me, I was just curious.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • Peter cinelli

      AC is Gay google it, you will find your proof. Hes still a good newsman unlike Boring, Robotic, Lemon.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  2. Dboy

    Christianity is a disease.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • Stome

      So's liberalism, better called "illiberalism." Both are hopelessly reality-averse.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • I agree

      It toates is.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • dalis

      The problem isn't Christianity. Jesus was fine, more than fine even. The problem is, Christianity has been hijacked by the self-righteous.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  3. Suz

    I just wanted to thank Don Lemon for a lovely, well thought out article, and tell him that it's ok. For every thumper posting about how you need to pray for forgiveness, there are hundreds of us that are perfectly ok and comfortable with you and who you are, and glad you are proud to be who the Lord made you. God bless.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  4. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    Hey, Aginor, were you born in a "manor"? Was it a "manor of respect"?

    Hahahhahahhahhaa. As Bugs Bunny said, "What a maroon."

    May 22, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  5. Observer X

    God bless you all...Gay and "Straight" hopefully this discussion will have optimistic people searching deeper for the truth.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • hal9thou

      The truth? Must be Buddhism.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  6. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    Aginor is so dumb he thinks that "manor of respect" makes sense.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  7. Peter cinelli

    I dont care about you being Gay, I just think you are a terrible news anchor. AC is Gay too but I love watching his show as he has news worthy talent. Try to be more genuine and less robotic in your newscast, its very boring.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  8. pat in jersey

    Good for you Don... you practice what you preach. Now it's Anderson's turn. All this talk about gay kids being bullied- you actually went out on a limb and told the world. Anderson needs to do the same if he's so upset about gay suicides, bullying and the news of the day.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  9. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    Aginor, you must be about 17 and full of yourself. No real adult would be this stupid.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  10. MM

    Blessings, Don! So well-stated!

    May 22, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  11. Malik

    Once again, Bayard Rustin (the man whom orchestrated the 1963 March on Washington for MLK) best summarized it all up:

    "[T]he job of the gay community is not to deal with extremists who would castigate us or put us on an island and drop an H-bomb on us. Our job is not to get those people who dislike us to love us. Nor was our aim in the civil rights movement to get prejudiced white people to love us. Our aim was to try to create the kind of America, legislatively, morally, and psychologically, such that even though some whites continued to hate us, they could not openly manifest that hate. That's our job today: to control the extent to which people can publicly manifest antigay sentiment."

    May 22, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • dalis

      The Belief Blog needs the Like button.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • hal9thou

      Well said. Gay marriage will be legal in the United States eventually through our legislative system, regardless of what the haters think.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Well said.


      May 22, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • Stome

      In other words, trample on free speech on the way to controlling thought. A liberal's wet dream.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Actually, @Malik said: "to control the extent to which people can publicly (manifest) antigay sentiment."

      The operative word being (manifest) here. People have the right to say what they want. I am a firm believer in the 1st amendment rights.

      My take on -Malik's quote here, if you look at the whole 'context' was about (manifesting) of that hatred, would very often *mean* people 'acting' on said hatred. It seems that it was inferring going beyone just 'words.'

      That's what my take on (maifest) in relationship to his post meant to me IMHO.


      May 22, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  12. Observer X

    I do not hate gays. I love watching Don Lemon and will continue. We just have different opinions when it comes to religion and same s3x conduct.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  13. jason

    @Bob You are one ignorant SOB!!
    If its not too late, please refrain from having kids. The human species would thank you. Oh and work on your grammar.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • bob

      thank you. I take that as a compliment coming from your kind

      May 22, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  14. hal9thou

    Christianity is a lie. So is Islam, Mormonism, Judaism, Buddhism, etc.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • dalis

      Buddhism? Really? Those dudes never did anything to anybody.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • hal9thou

      That's not the point, dalis.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • Peter cinelli

      Buddhism is more a Philosophy of life than a Religion, a Philosophy is not a lie, just a decent way to live your life. Get your facts straight.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • Robert

      True. All bow before the FSM! or perhaps all bow before repressive atheism.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • hal9thou

      I'm betting that is what some Christians would say about their "philosophy' as well.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • Peter cinelli

      Well, first of all, Buddhists dont woship a deity, they just practice doing no harm to people, nature, or animals. They dont shove their beliefs down your throat and are all about peace to their fellow man. No Deity=not a Religion but a Philosophy.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • Peter

      The problem isn't the religion it is the fanatics who seek to impose the moral code they believe is associated with the religion. Most religions have underlying points that make good sense (Golden Rule type stuff).

      May 22, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  15. keno

    Why is CNN allowing one of their employees to speak about their personal life on their CNN website? I like Don Lemon as a newscaster, but I think his private life should stay private. That goes for Wolf Blitzer, Candy Crowley, Gloria Berger, John King, Dana Nash and all the rest of the CNN newscasters. Don Lemon's expose has just spoiled a good thing for this CNN viewer.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • archmuse

      It's an opinion piece. The editorial pages of newspapers are full of them. Why are you threatened by that? Is your mind so shut that you can't tolerate to hear opinions that differ from your own? Will exposure to new ideas cause your head to explode or do you secretly fear that if you read something written by a gay man that you agree with you will suddenly become gay?

      May 22, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  16. Nick Harrison

    Don...Good luck my friend; I wish you well. Your CNN news show is well done and I enjoy it. Since I'm an atheist I would never bet that prayer would change anything. So bite the bullet as it were. "Pray" for people like me (don't waste your time!) as atheists are at the bottom of the social totem-pole. Enjoy what mostly nature and somewhat nurture has given you. Cheers for your courage.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  17. kstrike

    There is no god. People have "beliefs" not "knowledge". People "believe in god", "believe in a higher power"...believing is a choice. I do not judge other people's choices. Believe what you want and I will do the same (though I'm sure someone won't be able to resist judging me). It's interesting to me that the most judgmental people I've ever met proclaim to be christians who are supposed to leave judgement to their god. I choose to be a good, moral person who cares about others because it feels good and right for me, not because I'm trying to get rewarded or avoid being punished at the end of my life. As for this article, I think it's fantastic and couldn't agree more...what is being done to some young gay people is child abuse. Don Lemon, I loved your article and hope for a world of more acceptance of differences and a whole heck of a lot less judgment. I wish you all the happiness.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  18. Brandon

    If you really cared about making a difference, Don, then why didn't you just come out right way? Take a stand, make difference then, why wait?

    I think the only reason you came out now is the $$$$. and book sales. which is a shame. you have the platform to make a real difference.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  19. Maria Moore

    Thank you for your beautiful article. You are right, discrimination is discrimination. I hope people will read it and learn something of the pain so many kids and young adults go through just because of who they are.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  20. Linz

    I honestly don't understand all the haters on here. Why can't you just be happy for the guy for being true to himself? I think Don is awesome and an inspiration to all gays who are struggling to come out.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63
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.