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. Joey

    @ Wendy:
    If thy Bible offend thee, throw it out!

    May 22, 2011 at 6:12 am |
    • phil


      May 22, 2011 at 6:22 am |
    • Wendy

      Thanks but the bible doesn't offend me. People who pick and choose what they want out of the bible offends me. Like those who will make sure to scream about the "sins" of others in their attempts to cast that first stone.

      May 22, 2011 at 6:25 am |
  2. Makikijoe

    This is just the tip of the iceberg. In due time we will hear about other broadcast journalists coming out of the closet.

    Anderson Cooper may be the next one to come out.

    Fox's own Shepard Smith is allegedly gay as well.

    Stay tuned

    May 22, 2011 at 6:09 am |
    • J-Man

      I Find it quite funny that everyone on here talks in absolutes. i.e. There is no God or he is mythical. And we get the same response from the other side of the spectrum. when the fact is YOU DONT KNOW! I dont either. But what I do know is the truth will be known at some point. When it comes to evidence you can give it from both sides. Depending on your belief. To put someone down because you dont believe that way is just as much hatered as being a gay basher. I personally believe in Christ as our personal saviour and dont believe that you are born gay. But does that make me a gay basher. Not in the least. God hates the sin not the sinner. We need to stop putting everone in a general bucket.

      May 22, 2011 at 6:50 am |
    • Frogist

      @J-Man: What is the difference between telling someone "I hate you" and "I hate that thing that you are doing that you were born doing and that you can't stop doing"?

      May 25, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  3. Joey

    Bravissimo CNN!
    I read this important statement in disbelief that it had been published.
    The humiliation and degradation that almost every Christian denomination and other religions instill in gay men and lesbians from their early childhood is even more barbaric than punitive physical mutilation as practiced in Islamic countries.
    Please continue to illuminate the role of Christianity in this evil oppression and psychological destruction of a large portion of humans who are only attempting to live as what they were born to be.

    May 22, 2011 at 6:09 am |
  4. Tricia Sturgeon

    @ tracie the problem at hand is the fact that mr lemon was discriminated against and made to feel "dirty" by people who should be the ones showing love instead of hate. I know all about that. I'm not gay but I was treated just as badly in a church and I WILL NEVER go back! Being different is not a sin but treating someone the way Don Lemon was treated BECAUSE their different IS!

    May 22, 2011 at 6:08 am |
  5. Bart Ohama

    A fantastic piece of rationalization. He probably used this method to find the greatness in Obama's policies.

    May 22, 2011 at 6:04 am |
  6. Tricia Sturgeon

    @scapegoat Hey if the shoe fits......

    May 22, 2011 at 6:01 am |
  7. Brittany

    I absolutely loved this article!

    May 22, 2011 at 6:00 am |
  8. Rachel

    Isn't tolerance of sin, SIN?!

    May 22, 2011 at 6:00 am |
    • dalis

      What's the sin? Why is it sinful?

      May 22, 2011 at 6:03 am |
    • Sassan

      Sin according to who??? Your primitive, ancient, and irrelevant children's book you call a holy book??

      May 22, 2011 at 6:03 am |
    • Wendy

      Loving our neighbors, no matter who they are is not a sin. However, deciding to be judge in the place of God is sinful. I really don't get why so many Christians either forget or ignore the teachings of Christ. It's in there read your bible again.

      May 22, 2011 at 6:08 am |
    • Sassan

      Wendy, live in your fair story and your false sense of righteousness. It is the year 2011, get a grip. You right wing religious loonies are becoming closer and closer to the Islamic ideology day in and day out.

      May 22, 2011 at 6:13 am |
    • Sassan

      The Bible is an irrelevant book for children and those who can't comprehend reading a science book. The Old Testament also allows slavery. While the Bible is less violent than the quran; all these primitive, ignorant, unscientific holy books comes from a time when we humans were truly ignorant and didn't know the most simple basics of the Earth. Now people like you believe in such nonsense and judge other people because of your own ignorance? Let me guess, the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, right? lol

      May 22, 2011 at 6:15 am |
    • Wendy

      @Sassan First of all I'm not right wing anything, second you are proving you are no better than what you criticize. Take your extremism nonsense, because that is what it is and spew it somewhere else. Hatred isn't pretty no matter what side of the aisle it comes from. You are far closer to Islam in your intolerance than you imagine.

      May 22, 2011 at 6:32 am |
    • Sassan

      I don't hate or judge anyone. I don't base my life on primitive and irrelevant children stories. You are quite close and share similar fairy-tales in your bible with the quran in fact. Grow up, get out of childhood and read a science book and be in awe of what science tells us that religious babble never could and never will!

      May 22, 2011 at 6:35 am |
    • Wendy

      The fact that you are insulting me because of what I believe is EXACTLY what the Islamic extremist does. They consider us infidels for not believing what they believe. You insult me because of my faith. No other reason, because I have not posted anything negative nor have I judged anyone. I answered the question on sin because judging the sins of others is something that irks me. You then proceeded to insult me with the implication that I have little intelligence based solely on my faith. Once again Americans are judged based on their lack of faith in Islam by the extremist. You judge based on faith in Christianity. The opposite side of the same coin. Now had I been making statements about the sins of others it may be different. But I wasn't. Which is why I asked you to spew your extremism elsewhere.

      May 22, 2011 at 6:44 am |
    • che-3

      Racheal; your brains may have been turned backwards. Let apply your theory to this logic for clarity. Since Jesus was tolerant of sinners. Let me ask you this, Is Jesus a sinner himself simply 'cos he's tolerant of sinners and forgives sinners of their sins? Did you even study Bible Knowledge aka, BK in 1st Grade? I learned this from 1st Grade. The Bible teaches us not to be judgmental of others. Also Jesus stated "You all have sinned ………………. knowing or unknowing". And when his disciples asked Jesus what about a new born or a child that have just been born? Jesus answer was the same as before. The new born is also a sinner. Why ‘cos he carries the sins of his father’s or forefathers. This question now becomes; do white folks own Black folks for their sins of slavery and brutality committed by their forefathers?

      May 22, 2011 at 7:17 am |
  9. Indu

    Good to see you with Grandma!!! What you have mentioned is very true. People should not blindly believe in scriptures. Life is so different in reality. One should learn from their's and other's experiences than blindly through religious books. We should respect everyone around us except the one's who harm innocent people.

    May 22, 2011 at 6:00 am |
  10. Mark Yelka

    Gays are the new N's. In the back of the bus, they sit without federal tax law applied to couples, without health care benefits for couples, without real estate law, ... Get to the back of the bus and shut up.

    May 22, 2011 at 6:00 am |
    • che-3

      Mark Yelka aka; Son of the Devil Lucifer.
      Your RACISM, primitivism and backwardness is self-evident on this Sunday. Son of the Devil Lucifer; we commit you here again on this Sunday to the Devil Lucifer to possess you and your family to burn in eternal hell for the rest of your life. The world would be a better place without people like you and family living amongst us from you filthy trailer park with stinky fat PIGS. Get that?

      May 22, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      Loving, isn't she ?

      May 22, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  11. Pcworx

    An educated, well rounded man in a lucrative job, Don Lemon "the man" is what I see and respect on the tv screen. I see him as a man first and now respect him even more for the challenges he has had to face over the years as a black gay man. If I were able to over come my short-comings in life , and aspire to the career caliber Don has, or my son were to accomplish the things Don has in his life I would be very proud.

    I do believe in God. I also know that if gays even "go to h e ll" for their sins, which I very highly doubt, don't we all think that line getting into those gates is going to be pretty dang long? I would hope murderers, rapists, Bernie Madoffs and the like would be first in line and in our society we have no shortage of those types of animals. In my humble reasoning this Heaven and h e ll comes down to two simple things. You are either a good person or you're not. If you disagree with my thinking that's fine I am not the wisest man nor the dumbest just averge in my updated thinking of religion.

    May 22, 2011 at 5:57 am |
  12. Honey Bii

    You are wonderful and a direct reflection of God. He doesn't make mistakes.

    May 22, 2011 at 5:57 am |
    • tracie

      No God doesnt make mistakes therefore He didnt make anyone gay! "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination" (Leviticus 18:22). "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them" (Leviticus 20:13). No one sin is greater than the other. We have sinned and come short of God's glory but it is up to us to ask for forgiveness.

      May 22, 2011 at 6:05 am |
    • Russ Walden

      No but we do!!

      May 22, 2011 at 6:05 am |
    • dalis

      I'd love for somebody, anybody to actually quote Jesus Christ for once instead of cherry picking the obsolete strictures of Mosaic Law. You can't make death threats and speak of forgiveness in the same breath. The Bible is to convict you, not for you to convict others.

      May 22, 2011 at 6:11 am |
    • LoneZero

      "No God doesnt make mistakes therefore He didnt make anyone gay!"

      Luke 16:18 Christ defined a man or woman who has divorced and remarried as also being an adulterer

      if god doesn't make mistakes why does the church ignore this and remarry anyway? Why are you allowed to pick and choose what to follow and what to obey?

      Why is there gay people and animals if God Doesn't make mistakes, didn't he create everyone in his image according to you? He must of created them too right?

      It's natural and not a choice, the book you quoted from was written for man by man with God's name to enforce it.

      May 22, 2011 at 6:28 am |
    • Frogist

      @dalis: "You can't make death threats and speak of forgiveness in the same breath." That absolutely sums up the hypocritical situation of Christians who discriminate against gays with their Bible. Spot on!

      May 25, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  13. Lisa E Kelly

    GREAT ARTICAL! Thank you for shairng it & posting it on CNN. I am in totaly support of Gays being treated Equally to everyone else. It disgusts me that so many dont see it that way. Faith, Hope & Love. And the greatest of these is LOVE

    May 22, 2011 at 5:56 am |
  14. Adam

    I'm happy this man stood up for what he personally believes in! I'm a bit ticked off that one the people in theese comments tried to blame gay hatred on hip-hop and rap industries! That person needs to open their mind, or listen to the real messages of true urban artists'. That was a very shamefull blow of hate right there! Everyone should stand up for something they believe, that though is a new age form of racism!

    May 22, 2011 at 5:56 am |
  15. Scred

    I thought it was a great article. Haters, go to Fox.

    May 22, 2011 at 5:56 am |
    • Lisa E Kelly

      I TOTALLY AGREE !!!!!

      May 22, 2011 at 6:02 am |
  16. Kyle

    how can one say that being gay is a birth defect and that it should be able to be treated like all defects? how can something be a defect if god created us to be that way? why do they have to be considered "defects"? why can't they just be what is considered to be a part of who one is?

    May 22, 2011 at 5:55 am |
    • dalis

      Our society doesn't have a great track record with difference. They used to stick people with physical differences in freak shows and everyone from those with cerebral palsy to epilepsy to the deaf and blind in dank asylums. And they used to lock away gay people as well and subject them to shock treatment. Who are the real sick ones – the people for whom gay is normal or those who would torture a child to force them to conform?

      May 22, 2011 at 6:03 am |
  17. Tony Dijamco

    Beautifully said, Mr. Lemon. Words to live by. Not just for gays and lesbians of any age, but for all of humanity. I to believe in a higher power. To which, I call God. The Bible, which is filled with a lot of stories of hope and lessons of courage, was written and edited by people. Peoples with their own ideas and ideology. The meaning of life is to live the best life you know how and leave the judging for others. God bless you, Mr. Lemon. And God bless us all.

    May 22, 2011 at 5:55 am |
  18. tracie

    although i commend you for coming out and taking that chance of being discriminated against even more, this doesnt stop the fact that its an abomination in God's eyes. the Bible isnt meant to be read as parables or metaphors. those things the Bible speaks of actually happened. it all depends on your faith and how you receive or perceive those things. it amazes me how people interpret the Bible to fit their lifestyles. im not gonna condemn you or even say that hell is the place where you will lift your eyes. its not my place to judge, however i will say that you will forever be in my prayers. i will pray for you and all the people that you will affect with your message. thank God that He is a forgiving God and as long as we have breath in our bodies there will always be a chance to repent. God bless you.

    May 22, 2011 at 5:55 am |
    • Sassan

      Your god, your fairy tale...what's new??

      May 22, 2011 at 6:05 am |
    • mary

      Indeed, the Bible, as put together originally by the Roman Catholics and as studied for centuries by scholars of all religions, is full of parables and metaphors.

      May 22, 2011 at 6:06 am |
    • Larry L

      Tracie – you're living your life guided by a book that was passed down for over 150 years by word-of-mouth, translated several times, and then pieced together as a compromise between competing religious powers. The very story of Christ was copied from other mythology. This book has supported a lot of hateful people and vicious crimes against humanity. People use the words to validate their inability to understand the complexity of life and mysteries of science and nature. Free yourself before you waste more of this precious life.

      May 22, 2011 at 6:11 am |
    • dalis

      mary Actually, the Bible was compiled by the Eastern Churches. That's why the original languages are Hebrew, Aramaic and Koine Greek. Incidentally, when you read the famous clobber passages in Greek, they don't say anything about hom-os3x-uality but allude to temple pro-st-it-ut-ion. The shift toward anti-gay condemnation mainly derives from English-language translations based on the King James Bible.

      May 22, 2011 at 6:19 am |
    • Anne

      Its sad that in this day and age there are people as pompous and ignorant as you. I am sure my God loves everyone equally and I am sure being Gay IS NOT an abomination or a birth defect, people are born gay or straight. My being straight is no different than someone being gay, it is who we are.

      May 22, 2011 at 6:20 am |
    • Sassan

      Beautiful insight Larry. People like her would do themselves some good by picking up a Stephen Hawking' book and reading it to be in awe of the real workings of the universe; and no god is needed to run the vast expanse of the universe. Just think about it; there are at least 200 billion stars in our own milky way galaxy alone with hundreds of millions of planets and millions of Earth-like planets (see Kepler) and on top of that there are billions and billions of galaxies! There are more stars than there are grains of sand on Earth. The distances are so vast but in the grand scheme of things; we are still a primitive species for the most part which is most evident on the nonsense primitive and unscientific books millions of blind sheep worldwide still follow instead of picking up a science book to understand science is beauty, primitive so called holy books are for the ignorant and close minded who live their lives without logic, rationality, and evidence.

      May 22, 2011 at 6:20 am |
    • Info

      "although i commend you for coming out and taking that chance of being discriminated against even more, this doesnt stop the fact that its an abomination in God's eyes. the Bible isnt meant to be read as parables or metaphors. those things the Bible speaks of actually happened"

      The big problem with using the bible and "God's word" for moral behavior and moral thought is which parts are you gonna use and which parts you aren't? You said "this doesnt stop the fact that its an abomination in God's eyes" which fine because in the very next chapter it says we should stone to death all disobedient children.

      why is it okay to pick and choose by enforcing one thing but not enforcing the other? it's okay to call gays abominations but we don't have to stone our children, that's not consistent nor is it fair.

      speaking of picking in choosing Luke 16:18 Christ defined a man or woman who has divorced and remarried as also being an adulterer. this is also an abomination in gods eyes why is okay to allow this but not gays? Why can you pick and choose what to follow and what not too?

      May 22, 2011 at 6:24 am |
    • Fordham Jock

      Thanks for that post. I LOVE Stephen Hawking. I have this sinking feeling most on this board would have a tough time with him, but the surprising exceptions, like you, are why I keep coming back here.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  19. liz

    As a Chrsitian, I've learned not to be so arrogant in my prayers. I don't for my will be done, or for anything specific rather that I we given strenth to deal with whatever or to make me a better person.

    May 22, 2011 at 5:53 am |
  20. Ken

    At the end of the day another gay person is pimping himself for the sake of the all mighty dollar. How you come out the closet go sit in a chair be quiet and not blame an entire race for feeling inadequate. Stop whining first. If gay people want to be equal then step up and be treated like the rest of us and stop looking for and demanding special treatment. If you want special treatment I say you all should walk around with a cane and a bad limp to show a disability. Lastly, ask flamboyant gay men to stop being so disrespectful. You know all of them are, don't you? See how that works?

    May 22, 2011 at 5:45 am |
    • EricZ

      Can you be more specific about how gay people demand special treatment? If you're talking about Don Lemon, I still don't see how he demands special treatment for gay people. Do you think it's possible that you have prejudice against gay people no matter what they do??

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

      @Ken: Was that sarcasm? That's they only way I can take your post... sarcastically.

      May 25, 2011 at 10:54 am |
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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.