October 23, 2007
Big tents go both ways…
Posted by: Chris
OK, it's a vaguely sexual mixed metaphor, but it sums up my view about the mini-flap that blew up in Barack Obama's face over the last few days. Here's the gist of it, courtesy of the Baltimore Sun:
A gospel concert tour organized by the Barack Obama campaign on behalf of the candidate is stirring controversy among some gay activists. The three-day tour through early-voting South Carolina starts this Friday and finishes Sunday with a concert that includes Grammy Award-winning Gospel artist Donnie McClurkin, who has provoked controversy among gay activists for his views that homosexuality can be "overcome."
The Huffington Post's Earl Ofari Hutchinson has stoked the controversy on the web with a post that argues featuring McClurkin in a campaign-backed concert series amounts to an "ala Bush pander to anti-gay mania" that he calls "shameless and reprehensible."
McClurkin, who is also a Pentecostal minister, has been a prominent advocate of the view that homosexuality is a lifestyle and that gays can will themselves to heterosexual behavior. McClurkin has said he struggled with homosexual "demons" for 20 years--which he attributes to molestation as a child by male relatives--but is now straight.
Actually, the problems run a bit deeper than a single ex-gay gospel singer. Two other acts on the tour have anti-gay histories. Jasmyne Cannick has the background on Mary Mary:
And sister’s Mary Mary made it crystal clear earlier this yeat in an interview with Vibe Magazine how they felt about gays. When asked how they felt about homosexuality and having a gay following they likened gays to prostitutes and murderers.
“I feel how God feels about it, um… but I still love them. You know what I mean? I don't agree with the lifestyle, but I love them. They can come to the concert; I'm going to hug them just like I hug everybody else. They have issues and need somebody to encourage them like everybody else - just like the murderer, just like the one full of pride, just like the prostitute, everybody needs God.
Pity that. Victor Calderone's remix of "Shackes (Praise Him)" is one of my faves.
And Rod 2.0 offers a few kernels about another act on Obama's "gay bash tour," Hezekiah Walker:
Hezekiah Walker is a minister of the Pentecostal faith, traditionally inhospitable to gays, and, heads a Brooklyn mega-church well-known for its anti-gay views. Walker was also the subject of an unfounded gay rumor that has become urban legend.
Taken together, the inclusion of these three acts screams of poor advance work and a candidate not well-served by his staff. But that doesn't justify Hutchison's hysterical HuffPo reaction, pinning the decision for their inclusion on Obama himself, and alleging he did so as a strategic move to "masterfully tap into homophobic sentiment" the way George Bush did in 2000. Even without knowing either either man, I can say with full confidence that Barack Obama is no George Bush, and Hutchison only makes himself look silly to suggest it.
For example, Obama has issued a statement that Bush and Rove would never dream of issuing:
"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. I have consistently spoken directly to African-American religious leaders about the need to overcome the homophobia that persists in some parts of our community so that we can confront issues like HIV/AIDS and broaden the reach of equal rights in this country.
I strongly believe that African Americans and the LGBT community must stand together in the fight for equal rights. And so I strongly disagree with Reverend McClurkin's views and will continue to fight for these rights as President of the United States to ensure that America is a country that spreads tolerance instead of division."
Perhaps I'm under Obama's spell, but that statement pretty much settles the matter for me. The gay rights (oops, lgbT) movement has insisted for as long as I can remember that the Republican Party should be a "big tent" with room for gays and our allies, as well as those who are pro-choice and progressive on other social issues. Shouldn't the same be true for the Democrats, especially in the case of a presidential race.
If Barack Obama has somehow convinced an "ex-gay" gospel singer and his anti-gay allies to campaign on his behalf, despite being the strongest candidate on gay rights with a shot at the White House, then I say more power to him. Obama has proven time and again that he is willing to stand up for gay rights to conservatives, including those he needs within the black church.
I've got nothing but respect for activist and author (and friend) Wayne Besen, whose group Truth Wins Out has called on Obama to drop McClurkin from the South Carolina tour:
"We strongly urge Obama to part ways with this divisive preacher who is clearly singing a different tune than the stated message of the campaign," said Truth Wins Out's Executive Director Wayne Besen. "We can only hope that Obama is unaware of McClurkin's anti-gay history and will swiftly condemn such intolerance. Real leadership includes standing up to those who drive wedges between the American people."
I can understand why Wayne, who has dedicated years to fighting the "ex-gay" myth, would draw the line at McClurkin. (Notably, he makes no issue about Mary Mary or Hezekiah.)
To me, the McClurkin gig is a sideshow to what the candidate himself actually thinks and believes. Wayne is certainly right that McClukin is "divisive" in a way that doesn't fit Obama's "new politics," but if he can unite deeply conservative gay foes like McClurkin and the other two acts behind the most pro-gay candidate we've ever seen with a serious shot at the White House, I say Amen!
What do you think? Cast your vote in the Vizu Poll in the right column…
For a complete gay news summary on the Democratic presidential primary, click or bookmark: gaynewswatch.com/demprimary
For a complete news summary of interest to black gay men and lesbians, click or bookmark: gaynewswatch.com/black