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. Bob

    I'm white and straight, but very proud and supportive of you sharing your story. Keep up the great work on cnn. Bob.

    May 23, 2011 at 12:21 am |
  2. Soliloquy

    There is nothing wrong with LOVE – gay or straight. The Bible speaks out against LUST.

    May 23, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • dalis

      I actually agree with what you're saying. A lot of the problem is that people – gay and straight – confuse the two. The difference is, straight people are given a complete pass to misbehave, while gay people are condemned even when they're at their best. –Christian and gay

      May 23, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  3. Soliloquy

    We are all spirits and spirits have no gender. You are attracted to who you are attracted to. You love who you love. No matter what earthly gender form they take. The Bible even says that "two men will be lying in bed together" (Luke 17:34), and it doesn't say "shame on them" or anything. Faith in Christ is all that really matters.

    May 23, 2011 at 12:17 am |
  4. DrManic

    Don Lemon...?!...even his name suggest that he is a little fruity!

    May 23, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • joe

      thats like asking andrew tompson if he is related to andrew rogers.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:17 am |
    • Doobie


      May 23, 2011 at 12:33 am |
  5. Nikphoto

    I am proud that you wrote this!!!!! Keep standing up for yourself and what you believe in. Ignore the hatred comments, nobody can tell you who you are. Makes me sad that I grew up apart of a religious community that spouts such hatred!

    May 23, 2011 at 12:04 am |
  6. Xan

    If god wanted us to be gay, he wouldn't have created Adam and Eve. He would have created Adam and Steve...

    May 22, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • dalis

      That makes no sense at all. People are so heterogeneous in so many ways. It's like saying that because Adam and Eve weren't Chinese, there should never be any Chinese people. If Adam and Eve were not albinos, albinos should never exist and so on and so forth.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Adam and Eve, so their children could intermarry.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • pointless1

      Lenny – I got kicked out of Sunday School for saying something similar.. lmao for the memories.. thx..

      May 23, 2011 at 12:01 am |
    • Xan

      How do you know Adam and Eve weren't Chinese? It never says their nationality....

      IT WAS MEANT TO BE A JOKE YOU TARDS!!! Pull the stick outta yer bums...

      May 23, 2011 at 12:01 am |
    • Colin in Florida

      Wow, how original! And how uncaring-thisis a human being you are talking about.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • simon

      Adam and Eve are a metaphor, a tool for the purpose of telling a story. Even the most basic of genetics tells us that if we only started as two people there would only be two sets of genes that existed. Go to a major city and look around. there are all sorts of people with millions of traits and characteristics.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • Xan


      People take stuff way to seriously...

      May 23, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • Tommie

      A true belief in Christianity means you believe God created Adam and Eve and Steve in His "Image and Likeness"

      May 23, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • dalis

      Sometimes it's hard to tell the jokers from the jokes.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • Xan


      And so you know, all those millions traits and markers came from just a few thousand people in Africa.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • joe

      if god DIDN'T want gays to be gay... he wouldnt have made them gay.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:18 am |
    • macguysea

      Are you really that clueless????

      May 23, 2011 at 12:22 am |
    • Xan

      What I find amusing is that there are posts that are way worse than mine. Yet none of you are spewing venom at them, but because I mentioned God, you all go nuts lol! Seems you guys are more anti-god than pro-gay. I just think it's funny when people go nuts just because you mention god.

      Stick that in your pipe and smoke it....

      May 23, 2011 at 12:34 am |
    • Xan

      Also go read this, if you really think Adam and Eve is just a fairytale http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_bottleneck

      May 23, 2011 at 12:46 am |
  7. humanist

    @TheCaribQueen, then Loren has nothing to worry about.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  8. A Matter of Faith

    The thing many of us fail to recognize is that we are all in need of a savior. We all fall short. There is no big sin or little s-in in the eyes of God. They all have the same consequence which is seperation from God. So if you can live in a world where you have no communication with the Creator, then by all means..have at it. Knowing what I know about God and how He is so intricately woven into my life, I would rather be dead then let anything seperate me...especially something as minor in the big scheme of things as s-ex! I can live without it but not without God

    May 22, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Another Larry

      What you fail to realize is that there is no God and we don't need saving. Sure, we're imperfect by any reasonable definition of perfection, but that's just how we are. I don't doubt your sincerity, but fervent belief in something doesn't make it true or real. God is woven into your life because you've chosen to base so much of your life on your belief in him, but as for preferring to be dead than "separated from God," that's truly irrational given how happy people can be without a belief in God. I was a practicing Christian for nearly 40 years of my life, until I got to the point I couldn't keeping buying all the rationalizations offered to explain why there is no evidence of any kind of God's existence. I'm happier now than I was when I was a Christian.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:10 am |
    • pat carr

      "We all fall short" – LOL. speak for yourself. I left the GuiltCult 11 years ago. The 2,000+ year old bronze age cult no longer has a hold me of.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • A Matter of Faith

      It is always "A Matter of Faith". There is no proof of love really....it is only evident in the actions of those who say they love us when what we need as proof is given to us.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:22 am |
    • A Matter of Faith

      @Larry and Pat: I think maybe theer is more for each of you to experience in God. Theer are things in the word that if obeyed, will not only give you proof of God's existence, but also dispell any doubt you ever had. I think it's worth one more shot from the both of you. You will find the instruction in the book of acts the second chapter and verse thirty eight. I f you do this, you will never doubt His existence again!

      May 23, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  9. teepee

    i knew he was a sugar britches when i first heard and saw him...

    May 22, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  10. Hannah

    I really appreciate this article, as someone who grew up with very similar experiences. I find it really sad that there are so many people on here who insist on preaching their bigotry against gays and lesbians. Something tells me that if Jesus were here today he would be going out into the world showing love for EVERYONE, not sitting on his computer bashing a complete stranger who just opened up his heart in a very public forum. I, for one, honor your courage, Mr. Lemon, and I share your prayer that discrimination against gays (and everyone else who is still oppressed in this country) ends.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  11. Greedo

    I pray for blond bikini chicks to jump my bones. ... that doesn't work either.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  12. Gina

    To Ozy..you can judge me all you want but..some things in the bible like what u were reffering to was the customs that they had in those times...I just go by what the bible says..and it says that in the last days which is now.. that being gay will NOT take u to heaven. This is not an issue to argue about to see who's right or wrong. If people would read God's word with understanding and turn their life to God..This wouldn't even be an issue.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Gina, the Bible says nothing about lesbianism. Either way, isn't the entire Bible "customs they had in those days"? Either you believe its the word of God or not. If not, and you worked today (Sunday) you are doomed.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  13. Belarius Marek

    My GODS! You are either gay or you are not.. Accept the person that you are and move on.. Find someone to love you for who you are and just enjoy life. It is, after all, a very short time to be here.. So make the most of it.. You are fine just as you are.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  14. Antwoine Williams

    Wow! Just brilliant! Think I am going to nook his memoir now....You can't pray away a blessing and we are all divinely created in the image of God...black, gay, etc....Praise Jehovah..the creator of all people!

    May 22, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • Hannah

      Amen 🙂

      May 22, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  15. jojo

    If he would have kept praying the gay would have gone away...he just gave up too soon!

    May 22, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • Happily Married

      Amen to that!

      May 22, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • Belarius Marek

      Maybe if you keep praying, you'll accept that you too are gay. It is ok... We accept you for who you are.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • sad and confused

      To jojo and Happily Married and 1word: I don't know what happened to you in your lives to make your tongues so venomous but please stop writing. You are the epitamy of closed minded, careless, heartless and stupid. Things that God told all people not to be even thought he gave us all free will. He hoped we would listen a little better then we do.
      Everyone here (including you) are writing from a place in your hearts of what you have understood of life up to this point. That is where there are now two catagories. The ones (the three of you and others as lost), who are still going by the teachings of parents, priests and perhaps nuns. These people taught you the way of the Bible that was written by the fearful. This first group is made up of people who , just as the people who came before them are regular normal people who had the luxury and in some cases the power to control what people think of God and what they told you God thinks.

      That is what happens when fear takes place in front and has the oppurtunity to lead the pack. It is this fear that is in your hearts now that I implore you to lay to rest. This brings me to the reason I want you to take a break and stop, listen and learn. This brings me to the other group. This group has more right to say something because they are doing what is asked of them in the Bible, but it is also just common sense. It makes for a more breathable atmosphere to go about one's day and just do good and leave alone what you dont understand. And that is why this group can hold thier own as well as they do.

      They aren't, ()as you do and will again, pretending that they know what God truly wants from them other then to follow what could be called "The rule of ARK.' Acts of Random Kindness. This route is taken by the everyday Joe and Jane who just want to see smiles in people's faces, eat family dinners and not be awkward, and discuss things about life and no create a war in the heart of themself and those around them. It should always be a rule as well to always learn and never assume you have already done so.
      To come to God is for you the same as some teenager acting as if they know all and thier parents can just don't understand."
      These two mentallities are the still learning mind's way of saying it is still learning.
      How do you know more then others? How do you know that your intolerance and hate is more substantial then this other group? More vindicated then thiers? And do not say "because I have God on my side." No one truly know what God actually sees in us. And they are not making the assumption that they know God is even behind what they say. NO ONE KNOWS. They only know that it is a waste of thier life and time to try and act in God's stead they way you do. They have enough going on in thier lives and so not need to be stumped and stopped by that fear. They are the ones that in a major and more accurate way are living a christian life.
      So just be glad to be alive, be glad to have all lims working, be glad to have limbs at all,be glad that you get to wake up each morning and have the ability to choose. and you should. Soon. Choose to love your children no matter thier differences. Choose to help them know that it is not thier differnces that define who they are buit what they choose to do with those differences. As parents and even friends of these types of persons, be them physically disabled or gay or of mixed race. you can help them to do this by getting rid of your fear.
      Lead by true loving example.
      Do not be afraid of what you are not, concentrate on what you are and can do for your children, be aware that you have a God given ability to change (your mind and heart), and they will never be afraid to be what they are. Because they are the way they are supposed to be.
      Be this second group. Able to reach out and lend a hand and thier heartfelt kindness and compassion, never afraid that it will condemn you as anything other then someone born with something to give and learn and always doing so. With a more closed mouth to lend to a more open and always leaning mind. Never be so afraid.

      July 5, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  16. Reality

    o All "Abrahamics" believe that their god created all of us and of course that includes the g-ay members of the human race. Also, those who have studied ho-mo-se-xuality have determined that there is no choice involved therefore ga-ys are ga-y because god made them that way.

    To wit:

    o The Royal College of Psy-chiatrists stated in 2007:

    “ Despite almost a century of psy-choanalytic and psy-chological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heteros-exual or hom-ose-xual orientation. It would appear that s-exual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of ge-netic factors and the early ut-erine environment. Se-xual orientation is therefore not a choice.[60] "

    "Garcia-Falgueras and Swaab state in the abstract of their 2010 study, "The fe-tal brain develops during the intraut-erine period in the male direction through a direct action of tes-tosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hor-mone surge. In this way, our gender identi-ty (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and s-exual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender ident–ity or s-exual orientation."[8

    Of course, those g-ays who belong to Abrahamic religions abide by the rules of no adu-ltery or for-nication allowed.

    And because of basic biology differences and Abrahamic and other religious traditions said mon-ogamous ventures should always be called same-s-ex unions not same-s-ex marriages.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • Morrison

      Why can't you type properly? What's with the hyphens?

      May 22, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • Xan

      He got dropped on his head too many times as a baby...

      May 22, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • Reality

      The moderators of this blog have set up a secret forbidden word filter which unfortunately not only will delete or put your comment in the dreaded "waiting for moderation" category but also will do the same to words having fragments of these words. For example, "t-it" is in the set but the filter will also pick up words like Hitt-ite, t-itle, beati-tude, practi-tioner and const-tution. Then there are words like "an-al" thereby flagging words like an-alysis and "c-um" flagging acc-umulate or doc-ument. And there is also "r-a-pe", “a-pe” and “gra-pe”, "s-ex", and "hom-ose-xual". You would think that the moderators would have corrected this by now considering the number of times this has been commented on but they have not. To be safe, I typically add hyphens in any word that said filter might judge "of-fensive".

      • More than one web address will also activate “waiting for moderation”. Make sure the web address does not have any forbidden word or fragment.

      Sum Dude routinely updates the list of forbidden words/fragments.

      Two of the most filtered words are those containing the fragments "t-it" and "c-um". To quickly check your comments for these fragments, click on "Edit" on the Tool Bar and then "Find" on the menu. Add a fragment (without hyphens) one at a time in the "Find" slot and the offending fragment will be highlighted in your comments before you hit the Post button. Hyphenate the fragment(s) and then hit Post. And remember more than one full web address will also gain a "Waiting for Moderation".

      And said moderators still have not solved the chronological placement of comments once the number of comments gets above about 100. They recently have taken to dividing the comments in batches of 50 or so, for some strange reason. Maybe they did this to solve the chronology problem only to make comment reviews beyond the tedious.

      “Raison's Filter Fiber© (joking about the copyright)
      1. Here's my latest list – this seems like a good spot to set this down, as nobody's posting much on this thread.....
      bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to post that wonderful argument:
      Many, if not most are buried within other words, but I am not shooting for the perfect list, so use your imagination and add any words I have missed as a comment (no one has done this yet)
      – I found some but forgot to write them down. (shrugs).
      c-um.........as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, etc.
      sp-ic........as in disp-icable (look out Sylvester the cat!)
      ho-mo...whether ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, etc.
      t-it.........const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, etc.
      tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, (an unexpected one)
      va-g....as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant
      ar-se....yet "ass" is not filtered!
      jacka-ss...but ass is fine lol
      p-is.....as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, etc.
      o ficti-tious, repeti-tion, competi-tion.
      There are more, so do not assume that this is complete.
      okay words that you might not expect to be filtered....!!!

      Here's a word to add to the banned list: co-co-on
      whether it's c-oc, or co-on, this is ridiculous.”

      May 23, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  17. 1word

    Ok everyone I figured it out, Don wasn't born this way he was treated too nice as a youngster. Look at the picture, he's too old to be sitting in his grandma lap. That's what makes boys turn gay. I think lol!

    May 22, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Get to bed, 1word. School tomorrow. I can see from your writing that you're in middle school at best. Either that, or you are learning disabled.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • dalis

      1word I'm sure you'll never make that mistake with your children, will you? Get back to us when your kids turn out to be unbonded and shuffle you off to the home with no regrets.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  18. Elaine D

    Brilliant!!!!!! I feel much like you, except tha I am recovering from Catholicism. Thank You.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  19. GUStavo


    May 22, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • midwestmatt


      May 22, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • sibnyc

      What gives you the right to speak for God you hick? Maybe you should look at your life, and then look at your bible and ask yourself how many times did you pick and choose what rules to live by and rationalize what you thought was a "sin" and what you thought was okay. I don't think God needs a sinner like you speaking on His behalf. Go mind your own business.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • Blue

      Love is unconditional. If it is not unconditional, it is NOT love, it is control. Think it over.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • Freshman College Student

      Sibnyc, even though I thought that was a little harsh, I have to agree with you. Too many people try to play God. He didn't ask us to do His job. GUStavo, people CAN be gay and till experience God's love. God is not exclusive.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • Observer


      Why do we honor the "Three Wise Men" who brought the ABOMINATION of incense to baby Jesus? Do you condemn them? Yes or no?

      May 22, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • Colin in Florida

      So, you know this person so well that you know he sinned?

      At least the author can think, which is more than you can appear to do.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  20. my two cents

    Don.... You have been and will continue to be an excellent journalist and an asset to CNN. In addition the fact that you are a genuinely good person comes across in your work and that is all that matters to me–great reports and truly a good person!

    May 22, 2011 at 11:09 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.