barack_obama.jpgBy Wayne Besen

The Obama campaign hit a sour note when it chose to woo African American voters in South Carolina this weekend with a gospel concert featuring virulently homophobic and “ex-gay” gospel crooner Donnie McClurkin.

It is a shame, and quite ironic, that Barack Obama is in the center of this explosive controversy. The Senator has a solid record on GLBT rights, gay people are active in his campaign and by all accounts he is an ally to our community. Indeed, I personally admire Obama and think he would make a good president.

But, the embrace of McClurkin, an extremist who refers to homosexuality as a “curse,”is downright insulting. On more than one occasion, McClurkin has used his celebrity to demean GLBT people and disseminate blatantly false information about our lives.

“There are countless numbers of people who are not happy in this lifestyle and want to be freed from it,” said McClurkin. “They were thrust into homosexuality by neglect, abuse and molestation, and want desperately to live normal lives and one day have a happy home and family.”

McClurkin’s explanations for the etiology of homosexuality are patently absurd, unscientific and have no basis in fact. I can’t imagine why the Obama campaign would choose to associate with a man who is so closely identified with hatred and discrimination. Other despicable quotes from McClurkin include:

  • “Homosexuality has really ravished our children. It started in my generation. I was touched by it and I struggled with it and all that for years and there was nobody to deal with it. I started dealing with it in my sermons and even when we do our concerts.” (An interview with
  • “Everybody is going to the same hell. The religious hypocrite will go to the same hell as the murderer and homosexual. My job is to say that sin is wrong and kill the sin, not the sinner.” (The Voice, 16 July 2001)
  • Commenting on New York City’ Harvey Milk School, which caters to gay students, he said, “The gloves are off. And if there’ going to be a war, there’ going to be a war. But it will be a war with a purpose.” (CBN, 700 Club Sept. 23, 2003)

In reaction to the controversy, the campaign released a disappointing and inadequate boilerplate statement that reiterated Obama’ fine record, but did not commit to canceling McClurkin’ toxic appearance. According to the statement:

“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.”

So, instead of canning McClurkin, the GLBT community got canned talking points. In one sentence, Obama condemns homophobia, but then does nothing to deny a homophobe a platform to spew grotesque stereotypes about gay people. What is most offensive is that the campaign minimizes McClurkin’ comments to a mere “disagreement.” It’s not just a disagreement. It’s repugnant.

Obama blew his chance for a Sister Souljah moment, where he could have scored major leadership points by emphatically dumping McClurkin. Such a move would be great politics and have shifted many fence-sitting voters in his favor. But, instead of standing up to such bigotry in the here and now, he released a statement telling us how he has stood up in the past.

However, this imbroglio is really not about Obama’ missed opportunity — it is about starting a conversation on the expectations GLBT voters have for our “friends.” We are five percent of the electorate (much higher in the Democratic primaries) and give generously with our time and money. Just as it was no longer acceptable for candidates to speak at the once-segregated Bob Jones University in 2000, times have changed and it is no longer suitable for “gay-friendly” politicians to court homophobes in southern states.

If McClurkin’ bilious statements were directed towards any other minority, he would not be let within a mile of any campaign. The GLBT community will no longer sit by idly and be the exception to the basic rules of decency and common sense. Our votes will not be taken for granted, but earned — and Obama and the rest of the pack can take that as the gospel.