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

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

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

By Don Lemon, CNN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Opinion

soundoff (4,733 Responses)
  1. me

    God loves you Don, but the one apposing God doesn't. In other words, and people seem so hard to write or admit, Satan hates you and every gender issue today he is the one who has confused and made issue after issue. He has motivated hate for centuries and we still blame the Almighty? You havd a fight for a right. But just think, who always motivates feelings to harm and to gripe? I'll help you out, from Genesis to Revelation.. The one one who loved the senual impulses to destroy them was Satan, God always loves them back for some reason making Him a just and loving God. Reach out Don to God Almighty commit to Him with celebacy and pray for strength and wisdom.

    May 22, 2011 at 5:44 am |
    • Tricia Sturgeon

      I think you need to pray to your God for a spell checker and some COMMON SENSE!!

      May 22, 2011 at 5:46 am |
    • tracie

      That's the beauty of it... God still loves us all. Even Tricia Sturgeon who found the need to point out the fact that you mispelled a couple of words instead of focusing on the problem or situation at hand!

      May 22, 2011 at 6:00 am |
    • Faux Paws

      @Tricia

      Exactly.

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

      @me – You seem to have missed the point of the entire essay. Don Lemon spent his entire childhood "reaching out to God" and praying to become what everyone in his community wanted him to be. It was only as he became older that he realized how harmful that is. Just because he "reached out to God" and got a different message than the one you get doesn't mean that he's wrong, that he's actually talking to Satan, or that YOU aren't the one who's reading the book wrong.

      June 6, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  2. che-3

    Very shock and disappointed in Don. I knew there was something wrong with him that I couldn't put my finger on that he did act right in certain ways as a real man. This gay thing is all up in his head and nostrils. Boye; being a black man is already tough in America. Now topping it off this gay thing blows your tube socks off. It's more like neutron bomb. Every member of my family was shocked to the bone including the family dog. His whiskers have been trembling all week. Can someone send my some dog biscuits? Whew; the world didn’t end after all. It turned out to be a beautiful sunny day. We wish Don Lemon all the best. Hey, whatever rocks your boat; Good luck!

    May 22, 2011 at 5:42 am |
    • Glenda

      Found your comment very funny, LOL

      May 23, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • oh, brother!

      a-ha-ha-ha! I thought you were serious ...until I read "including fa,ily dog!". great stuff. I want to be like you wen I grow up! 😀

      May 23, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  3. Mark Yelka

    The need to have scapegoats in society is deeply rooted. It is no longer legally acceptable to use women or non-white races as scapegoats. BUT, gays are still open targets.

    May 22, 2011 at 5:36 am |
    • scapegoat

      the way most people on this comment board are talking, I thought Christians were the new scapegoats.

      May 22, 2011 at 5:56 am |
    • Possum

      Well, Christians already had their time of persecution as lion feed. So, once they became established and given social power through the armies of emperors and kings, all through history, they've needed to perpetuate the abuse cycle upon an evil of their leadership's choosing. Pagans, Muslim/other faiths, indigenous/native Peoples, the mentally ill, so-called witches, have all been the chosen recipients of Christianity's war on everything else but "their own kind." As society and science progressed and people have realized the mentally ill are not possessed and the witch hunts were bogus and politically motivated (etc, etc, etc), Christian leadership refocused the target to the next vulnerable group to create a common enemy at the gates in order to galvanize followers and maintain cohesion in membership. Hitler used this tactic to create a social enemy of the people and pursued it to horrific ends. This century, it's been the gays as the target "demon" but this misguided war has become transparent and the targets are no longer remaining quiet about their oppression. Eventually, Equality and Justice will prevail and Christianity (and all other such groups) will have to find a new target to blame their self-imposed persecution on.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Frogist

      @Mark Yelka: :Women and non-whites are still being targeted, just not as openly as gays.

      May 25, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • ACG

      @scapegoat – Christians would LOVE to be the new scapegoats. But as long as they make up more than 80 percent of the U.S. population, enjoy 90 percent representation in Congress, and get to propose–and pass–"values"-based legislation that would never even be considered if it came from any other faith, you're never going to get the whole "persecution" thing to fly. And I say this as a practicing Episcopalian–I may be called upon to justify my faith from time to time, but I've never once felt like a victim because of it.

      June 6, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  4. rochelle

    Glorious inspiration. Love and peace to all!

    May 22, 2011 at 5:35 am |
  5. David

    The church is where we need change, badly

    May 22, 2011 at 5:32 am |
    • Possum

      Indeed.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Patricia

      Agreed !! They need to teach more tolerance, understanding, compassion towards those who are different ! The whole fire and brimstone scenario is more like a bad movie than a credible scenario. They are teaching people to be bulles, and from the comments here.... doing a mighty fine job of it 😦

      May 22, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  6. Scott

    And now because he wants to live for the flesh he will suffer in eternity for it.

    May 22, 2011 at 5:30 am |
    • dalis

      Why and how can you assume at all that he lives for the flesh? Are you engaging in gossip?

      May 22, 2011 at 5:32 am |
    • Tricia Sturgeon

      And what makes YOU such an expert? I smoke ciggerettes does that mean I'll go to hell? Well at least I wont have to worry about getting a light!

      May 22, 2011 at 5:36 am |
    • This is so not right

      Dalis, what r u, the anti-gay comment police?

      May 22, 2011 at 5:38 am |
    • Don't support gay people

      You'd be a little too preoccupied with being on fire to worry about a light for your cigarette that won't even be there. Be careful what u joke about.

      May 22, 2011 at 5:41 am |
    • dalis

      Not at all. I might be the anti-R-word police though (see below). That one really bugs me. How about defending the mentally disabled instead of the anti-gay people? At least they can defend themselves.

      May 22, 2011 at 5:44 am |
    • che-3

      Suffer for what in eternity. Read your Bible for it written: "Judge NOT so that yee shall be judged" unquote. That said, who the heck are yee to judge someone? You must be one of those silly so-called American born again Sunday Christian who thinks they are holier than thou. Shame on you!

      May 22, 2011 at 5:49 am |
    • Possum

      Hogwash.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • Brian

      Remember people, "Stop, Drop and Roll" does not work in hell...

      Brought to you by the "newly raptured".

      May 22, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • Dorianmode

      @dalis,
      Thank you for your efforts. I personally am so bored by their cr-p, that I can't even waste my time with them, but it's good that someone cares enough to say something.

      As the wise Lillian said, quoting Mark Twain, to Bucky Ball yesterday, "Better to keep your mouth shut, and be presumed a fool, than to open it, and remove all doubt".

      Peace out.

      May 22, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Faux Paws

      @Dorianmode
      Just to keep things correctly stated.....
      She was agreeing with Bucky yesterday, about someone else, not addressing him. I suspect you meant that, but what you said could be taken differently. I read that, and they agreed with each other.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Chartreux

      If indeed that is true that will be for him to pay in the end. However, since there are those of us who believe that the Lord made him the way that he is, and science supports our beliefs and understanding, since that's the case, why would God make someone suffer for their orientation?

      It makes more sense that in a family there are more people around who won't reproduce and who will support the children who are born: aunts and uncles and cousins. The Scripture on 'be fruitful and multiply' has been fulfilled. Human beings now outnumber rats and mice on this planet. We're in no way endangered. We've already overpopulated the planet.

      June 13, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  7. hopeful

    Thank you for sharing your very personal and powerful story. You provide a raw glimpse into some of the pain our society continues to inflict. I look forward to exploring many 'teachable moments' in your essay with undergraduate students of biology and with my own teenage children.

    May 22, 2011 at 5:29 am |
  8. Kevin

    Try the Unitarian Universalist Church – we are very accepting, and as for religious beliefs, we leave that up to you to figure out.

    If there is a liberal Episcopal Church or United Church of Christ in your area, you might try that (I have belonged to parishes with both gay and female priests).

    Also, there is the Metropolitan Community Church which was founded by people from the GLBTQ community.

    May 22, 2011 at 5:29 am |
  9. Christian

    "Christian doctrines and teachings that supported slavery, segregation and the subjugation of women to pervade our society". From the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, in which the teachings of Jesus Christ are recorded, there are absolutely no teachings from Christ that support slavery, segregation, or the subjugation of women. Sure, some religious people (we're all sinners) have gotten their doctrine grossly wrong in the past, however the unadulterated teachings of Christ are true, and good, and life-changing.

    May 22, 2011 at 5:28 am |
    • che-3

      I'm a Christian by Birth and I don't believe all the things in Bible written by some white folks with the sole purpose to slave the World with some faith doctrine.
      We just witnessed a crazy, deranged, dysfunctional, mentally disturbed white dude claiming the World is coming to an end. The last time I checked; he has over 30% of the American population who are mentally challenged as his Christian followers with $270M in the bank excluding personal properties.
      I bet 50-yrs. from now, some white folks will conspire to write a new American Holy Bible claiming; mentally challenged George W. Bush is Arch Angle and deranged, dysfunctional, mentally disturbed white woman aka, Sarah Palin is the actual Virgin Mary that the world needs to worship. For the record; you and I won’t be around to challenge them that it ain’t soooooooooooooooooooooo but fake and Bogus. Not only that; when GWB was the President, some deranged white pastors and their churches claimed that God told them George W. Bush is Jesus reincarnated. You will never know what white folks will put in records books as true or fact even though they ‘re not. Take it from me, don’t believe anything the News Media tells you. They are paid to fabricate stories and sell them to you as fact(s). Use your head for that’s only weapon to sort out the truth from some bogus fiction.

      May 22, 2011 at 6:19 am |
  10. Andrew

    May God bless you Don. Even though you may be ostracized for coming out, know that at least one person in this world respects and admires you. Good Job.

    May 22, 2011 at 5:25 am |
    • Possum

      He may be ostracized by the socially and spiritually blind but he will be embraced by countless many others who will accept him for who he is.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  11. Brian

    I find it absolutely.....hilarious that people would bad-mouth/namecall/discriminate a group of people based on the actions of a subset of that group for badmouthing/name calling/discriminating a group of people based on the actions of a subset of that group

    May 22, 2011 at 5:24 am |
  12. kirsten

    Hooray! What a wonderful article. There are people who support you, including straight Southern women like me. Consider looking into a few different Unitarian Universalist organizations; many work for social justice and supporting gay rights. Meanwhile, I pray the anti-biogtry prayer with you!

    May 22, 2011 at 5:23 am |
  13. ___

    CNN has become GNN

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

      I'm sure you'd feel much more comfortable at Fox News.

      May 22, 2011 at 5:25 am |
    • ___

      No.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  14. Sassan

    I always had a feeling Don was in the closet. I'm glad he came out for himself. I could only imagine how horrible it would be to live one's life not being real to one's self. Kudos Don 🙂

    May 22, 2011 at 5:21 am |
  15. Steven

    Wow, 'coming out' and writing a book about it. This reeks of disingenuinity to me. First of all WHO CARES that he's gay and making it known to people. Then, why write a book about it? This guy just wants to make a story of himself and make a fortune putting out a book about it because he can. A non-story story.

    May 22, 2011 at 5:20 am |
    • Sassan

      1) He's black and it's huge stigma in the black community, 2) He has lived his whole life with a "hidden" side and now he doesn't have to pretend; he is who he is. Why hate??

      May 22, 2011 at 5:23 am |
    • Drito

      That's what a memoir is you retard. Wow.

      May 22, 2011 at 5:24 am |
    • dalis

      Nuh-uh! Knock off the R-word now.

      May 22, 2011 at 5:26 am |
  16. Jon

    You are who you are, an excellent news anchor.

    May 22, 2011 at 5:12 am |
  17. MrMailman

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDsj5UZ_1bA&w=640&h=360]

    May 22, 2011 at 5:11 am |
  18. mike in chicago

    Robin, people 'confess' to doing something that actually hurts other people. 'Confessing' to being gay is nothing of the sort.

    May 22, 2011 at 5:09 am |
    • gman

      This type of thing wouldn't happen if you didn't have an imaginary friend. And any person who tries to give you advice starting with the story of Adam and Eve or Noah's Ark should probably be ignored, they will never tell you the truth.

      May 22, 2011 at 5:18 am |
    • dalis

      I'm a practicing Catholic and gay, and I have had great confessors in the past. I could talk to them about both my s3xuality and my moral life (which encompasses s3xual expression as well) without prejudice as one ought to be able to do with any priest worth his salt. But, I did have an encounter with a much older priest at a penance service. I should have known better, but when I tried to preface a confession by saying I am gay (won't say what I was actually confessing for confidentiality's sake), he tried to give me an absolution for it (even though it's not a sin)! You know, that might have sent some people for the door.

      May 22, 2011 at 5:21 am |
  19. JK

    Eve was created from Adam as God planned...and sin began with Adam. Jesus was born to show us how we can overcome sin. Study the two and see the difference and check your heart...are you humble and unselfish? We will all know the truth one day...but I truly respect anyone how "knows" what they are saying "no" to...do you "know"? Finally, if your great mind has gotten you to the place you are today, then why do you so many problems?

    May 22, 2011 at 5:08 am |
    • Possum

      Yeah, all that incest sin going on with Adam and daughters and sons and sisters, eeeeuww.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  20. Christian

    "Christian doctrines and teachings that supported slavery, segregation and the subjugation of women to pervade our society". From the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, in which the teachings of Jesus Christ are recorded, there are absolutely no teachings from Christ that support slavery, segregation, or the subjugation of women. Sure, some religious people (we're all sinners) have gotten their doctrine grossly wrong in the past, however the unadulterated teachings of Christ are true, and good, and life-changing.

    May 22, 2011 at 5:07 am |
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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.