Candidate responds, adds gay minister to concert bill
Just more than two months away from the first voting in the 2008 presidential primaries, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama is launching a new push for voters in the black
community that has enlisted the help of performers with notoriously anti-gay positions.
According to the Obama campaign Web site, the campaign is hosting a gospel concert tour Oct. 26-28 in the early primary state of South Carolina. The headliners include such gospel stars as Donnie McClurkin, the Mary Mary duo, Hezekiah Walker, Byron Cage and the Might Clouds of Joy. The Web site says the three concerts are intended to bring “people of all faiths together to put their faith into action.”
But the campaign’s willingness to include McClurkin in that effort has LGBT leaders angry. In numerous public statements, McClurkin has let it be known that his faith includes the belief that homosexuality is “abominable” and a danger to children.
“Homosexuality has really ravished our children,” said McClurkin, in an interview at the FamilyChristian.com Web site. He referred to homosexuality as abominable in a 2004 interview with a Christian magazine in Britain.
On Wednesday, Oct. 25, after two conference calls with gay backers, Obama attempted to defuse what had become a crisis by adding a gay South Carolina minister to the bill for the concert. The Rev. Arthur Sidden reportedly will deliver the invocation.
“I want to make sure that we are communicating the inclusive nature of this campaign, that I am continuing to reach out in the faith community,” Obama told the Chicago Sun-Times. “But I did want to do so in a way that is consistent with my strong belief in equal rights for gays and lesbians. And I don’t want there to be any confusion about that.”
In numerous interviews, McClurkin has made it widely known that he has struggled against his own attractions to other men attractions which he says are the result of having been raped by male relatives twice when he was just a child.
“I was stunned that the campaign would even consider attaching itself to individuals who had taken such a public stance in opposition to LGBT issues,” said Alexander Robinson, a longtime gay activist and executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition.
“Donnie McClurkin has said that he is at war with the gay community, so it seems inconsistent with what the senator has said or even his own history and voting record.”
Truth Wins Out, an organization that seeks to counter hostile messages about homosexuality and “ex-gay” activities, issued a press release Monday, Oct. 22, calling on Obama to “to immediately distance his campaign from “‘ex-gay’ preacher and gospel singer Donnie McClurkin.”
Responding to questions about the growing criticism in the LGBT community, the Obama campaign issued a statement from the senator Monday night.
In that four-sentence statement, the senator says, “I have clearly stated my belief that gays and lesbians are our brothers and sisters and should be provided the respect, dignity and rights of all other citizens.”
He also states, “I strongly disagree with Reverend McClurkin’s views .” But Obama does not indicate that he or the campaign will take any steps to remove McClurkin from the program. And that’s what angers Robinson and others.
“He condemns homophobia in one sentence, but gives a platform to the homophobe,” said Wayne Besen, head of Truth Wins Out. “You’ve got to be kidding me . It’s like he’s saying this is just a disagreement. It’s not just a disagreement. It’s repugnant.
“Obama’s someone with a great record and he needs to show some real leadership, not just talking points,” Besen added. “Don’t tell me you’ve stood up; stand up.”
Robinson said Tuesday, Oct. 23, that the Black Justice Coalition has expressed its continued concern and asked for a meeting with the senator. The letter states that while the Coalition appreciates the sentiments expressed in his statement, “actions speak much louder than words.”
McClurkin is due to perform on Sunday night, Oct. 28, in Columbia.
Joining McClurkin on Sunday, and performing with others on Friday, Oct. 26, in North Charleston, will be a sister duo called Mary Mary. According to gay freelance music journalist Clay Cane, the sisters, Erica and Tina Atkins, have a large gay following. He interviewed them in December and asked them how they feel about that.
“I don’t agree with the lifestyle, but I love them,” said Erica Atkins. “They can come to the concert; I’m going to hug them just like I hug everybody else. They have issues and need someone to encourage them like everybody else just like the murderer, just like the one full of pride, just like the prostitute everybody needs God.”
Tina Atkins echoed those comments saying, “We don’t necessarily agree with the lifestyle, but we don’t pride ourselves on bashing.”
“Everyone has things in their life that they need to correct .” said Tina Atkins. “Even though that’s the way we feel, we don’t bash, we don’t do that kind of thing and we embrace everybody who enjoys our music.”
Cane, who said he has supported Obama’s presidential campaign, said the inclusion of McClurkin and Mary Mary has caused him to start rethinking his support.
“I know he’s not for gay marriage and some of us have accepted that,” said Cane. “But for Obama to have Donnie McClurkin he’s made some horribly homophobic comments. I think the LGBT community should raise an eyebrow. I like Obama; I’ve been supporting him. But this is problematic for me. He’s supporting people who have made terrible, homophobic comments.”
The Black Justice Coalition indicated that McClurkin, Mary Mary and another performer for the Obama gospel tour, Hezekiah Walker, are “three of gospel music’s most openly homophobic artists.”
Stampp Corbin, the national LGBT liaison for the Obama campaign, declined to comment about the controversy when contacted Monday, Oct. 22, but said he was making his views known to the campaign. He did not return a reporter’s call Tuesday, Oct. 23.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 26, 2007