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. inezd

    You need to pray more to GOD to help you to avoid the daily temptation that is tempting in your mind and doing what is morally right thing to do. You can be gay in your thought but not act on it because your inner self is saying its wrong, follow your conciense and you will not regret it. You won't be talking about this if you are not confused about yourself and obviously you are.... so pray more for GOD's guidance. GOD Bless

    May 22, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Which "god" did you have mind? There have been so many over the years...

      May 22, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • JennyTX

      Um, you're an idiot.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Leon

      Actually, he is one that is not confused. And unlike yourself is trying to make a non-judgmental contribution to help others.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  2. Christopher Quesenberry

    Don, Thank you for your message! I am an evangelical gay Christian and so is my partner. Thanks for being a leader and for giving hope to young people that God loves us just the way he made us! Rock on! Christopher 🙂 Reading, PA

    May 22, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  3. Peter Jensen

    Thank you Don for putting yourself out there and and addressing this issue . Great article! Your right some of the things we face as Gay children is child abuse. Good point! All the Best to you, Peter

    May 22, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  4. Childofthelight

    I’m sorry to see that the devil has such a stronghold on your life, on your mind and on your heart. You know inside that your behavior is wrong, don't you. I'm not asking that as a question, but rather am reinforcing fact...you know that it's wrong. Don't listen to those who would and will lead you astray by telling you things like "just go with it" or that it's ok, and offer encouragement. Sin used to slink down dark alley ways, not it proudly marches down Main Street. You may leave MaMe's values for awhile...but they will never leave you. What happened to you is typical of male children who grow up without a father, that is why the family, a mother and a father are imperative to a child's growth. Guilt is not a bad thing, it is your conscience...be careful not to sear that, be careful not to lose that or you will begin to believe that anything you want to do is ok, and fall into the cultural and moral relativist trap that so so many countless others are falling into every day but it is a trap. It is deception. God and heaven are real, and so are satan and hell. A seared conscience and rejection of God are a one way ticked to the burning pit of hell, and it is forever and ever. Choose wisely for the road to heaven's gate is narrow and few find it. The path to destruction is wide, it is a super highway and many are on it and are careening toward their destruction. Those are the one on here encouraging you to "be who you are, be gay and live life be gay and be proud." Do not follow those fools into the fire my friend. Get back onto the path your grandmother put you on and really live. May God open your eyes to the truth, and may He open the eyes of all who walk in this darkness.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • Mark

      Do you have any room in that head for common sense or is it too tightly packed with craziness? There's a real world out there. You might try living in it for a change.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • puck_the-hockey_cat

      I know deep down you are a good person, but reading your comments just makes me so angry. Why do you insist on believing something that was writing when men still believed in goblins and unicorns? For the live of your god, open your mind, only then will you really live.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  5. Rodel

    Thank you Don as a black gay man, there was no one courageous enough to be themselves in the spotlight no one to look to as a positive and real life representation of a BLACK GAY MAN (not that that defines you because I do not believe it does). I wish I was younger to grow up with this knowledge that there is an other side to all the confusion of youth. Because to my knowledge I did not know there was other black gay men like myself growing up that were "normal". By your mere presence and open and visible truth you have changed some young black kids life. You have made his world just that much bigger and for him he is not sole gay black person in existence. So thank you for standing and being if nothing else a face to reflect positivity of it all.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  6. The Other side

    You are right. Denying it your whole life. What if you had married a woman and then came out later in life? You would have devastated a family. This happens quite often due to religious teaching. There is help for the Straight Spouse in these times. Just Google the 'Straight Spouse Network'.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  7. Bob Rock

    The gays are like the Jews. We should create Gaysrael for them! The people that everybody (almost) agree with, but nobody really wants. NIMBY!

    May 22, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • Thomas

      @Bob – I just wrote another reply to one of your posts in the attempts to educate you because it appeared that you didn't dislike gays, but that you were instead misinformed. However, it appears from your other posts here that you have an irrational dislike for gays. In other words, you are not only ignorant, but also a bigot.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • JanetMermaid

      Actually, Bob, I'd MUCH rather have a gay couple IMBY than self-righteous, narrow-minded, bigots like you.

      May 22, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  8. Rainer Braendlein

    Some more:

    Most of us have a any vice. That is why God has sent his beloved Son. God wants to release us by the power of the death and ressurection of Jesus Christ. We enter a dangerous state, when we claim, our sinful state would be just natural or normal and the gospel would just cause unneccessary worry. That is not good. When we signify our sinfulness as the natural state and say the gospel just disturbs us or mankind, we are in high danger to become God's enemies. God can stand that we are sinners, and he even gave his Son to set us free. He cannot stand, when we feel disturbed by the kind help, he has sent us and try to promote vicious lifestyle.


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

      Nice fairy tale...

      May 22, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  9. Bob Rock

    It's never good to have a bad mutation or malformation in nature. Being gay is certainly one of those things, and it's just as bad as having short arms and legs, being born with spina befida, or suffering with dwarf etc. – all bad, no matter how you slice it, or pretend that it's just another normal "variation". The study after study proves that gays have major health issues as a result of being gay/lesbian and their lifestyle.

    People certainly do have a tendency to embrace illusions – from major ones such as religion, communism etc. to minor ones such as "the Arab spring is all about democracy" or "being gay is a normal variation".

    May 22, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Gs018

      Proof that ignorance abounds...

      May 22, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • puck_the-hockey_cat

      Your comments are infantile and border on abusive. It's to bad the same people who want to pray the gay away can't pray the idiots away....but I guess that would be like praying themselves away…Hey maybe that is the answer.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Peter Jensen

      Hey Bob let's see those sources for the studies your referring to.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • Tim

      What a load of garbage. It's amazing what lengths prejudiced people go to to sell their poisonous ideas. I have particular contempt for people who site "studies" or "evidence" and never name them. Your childhood religious indoctrination no doubt warped your perceptions of right and wrong – but at least make some attempt at logical argument now that you're and adult.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  10. Bob Rock

    Discrimination is good. It helps us discern the freaky from the normal. This idea that we should all some day stop "discriminating" is absurd. We might as well all become religious (another failure to discriminate).

    May 22, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • thierryjtaule

      hey bob rock. go climb back under that rock that you came from. shiiithead!

      May 22, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • Joe

      What? Yes it is a great thing and definitely goo to be able to point out someone and say "you are a freak". You are a brilliant man, for sure. Thanks for letting us see the price of being an atheist.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Joe wrote: "Thanks for letting us see the price of being an atheist."

      Just as not all religious people are stupid, not all atheists are as vile or prejudiced as Bob Rock...

      May 22, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  11. rjh25

    To thine own self be true.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  12. Moses

    Hugs Don! You inspire us a lot! Thank you

    May 22, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  13. enoughallready

    How many times can he refer to getting on his knees ... what a bunch of trash.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • Bob Rock

      Gays are the equivalent of circus clowns. Even the word "gay" they hijacked testifies as to what they think of themselves!

      May 22, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • Bobby

      .... quite ironic for a gay man to keep using that phrase.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  14. Malcolm

    This piece is motivation to my Lifestyle

    May 22, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • R U Crazy!

      Get over it!

      May 22, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  15. asche

    nothing like mixing god, gayness and the race card all into one self-absorbed bundle. sadly, i'm sure this fail-wit society is eating it up too. way to go.

    remember to vote Camacho for president – we are very definitely headed toward idiocracy

    May 22, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  16. Adelina

    Christian African-Americans must rescue the while American s-e-x-ual perverts that have gone morally bankrupt.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:22 am |
  17. Rink

    Need to know the higher power you believe in please, Jesus Christ is the higher power I believe in...don't hide your higher power from us. Again please Don Lemon if your coming out come all the way. Love you in the name of Jesus, rink

    May 22, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  18. Barbara USA

    I hug you with my heart....

    May 22, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  19. stefan

    Praying to a book of nonsense will not change being gay. If your gay then your gay, nothing you can do about it so be the best you can be. Do not be fooled by today's liberal wave though, it is not the same as being straight nor is it an alternative. You can and should be able to live a happy and productive life, gay or not, but it is a genetic disfunction and out of the norm. It should not be promoted as an alternative to natural reproductive living.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:18 am |
  20. Dave

    Good for you, Don. Hopefully, people will wake up soon.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:17 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.