Gay D.C. City Council candidate Clark Ray drew mixed reactions from the LGBT community this week when he accepted the endorsement of a minister who preached in 2005 that “lesbianism is about to take over our community.”
Ray, who is challenging LGBT-supportive Council member Phil Mendelson, noted that Rev. Willie Wilson, pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia, apologized for the remarks about lesbians and gay men in his widely reported 2005 sermon.
Ray said he and Wilson developed a friendship while meeting regularly over the past two years on a wide range of issues beginning when Ray served as director of the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation.
“What we’re trying to do today and I think what this is an example of is building a bridge,” Ray said at Denny’s Restaurant in Southeast D.C., where Wilson announced the endorsement Wednesday and pledged to work hard for Ray’s election in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary.
“We don’t agree on everything, the reverend and I,” Ray said at the announcement. “And I disagree on a number of topics that we’ve talked about. But the deal is we can talk about it. And I can learn from him and he can learn from me. … So I welcome the endorsement.”
Wilson told the gathering that as parks and recreation director, Ray showed a strong interest in the issues and concerns of residents in wards 7 and 8 and helped Wilson with several projects related to city recreation and senior citizen centers.
“We developed a very close friendship,” Wilson said. “I vigorously support his campaign for at-large member of the D.C. City Council. I will personally canvas my community to get out the vote in support of Clark Ray for at-large Council member.”
Members of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance criticized Ray for accepting Wilson’s endorsement, triggering a debate on the group’s blog, GLAAforum.org.
Bob Summersgill, a former GLAA president, pointed to published reports and transcripts of Wilson’s 2005 sermon, saying Ray’s acceptance of the endorsement appeared to be “pandering to one group while alienating others.”
In his sermon July 3, 2005, Wilson asserted that black families were being harmed by a growing number of young women who were rejecting men and forming romantic relationships with other women.
“Lesbianism is about to take over our community,” he said. “I’m talking about young girls.”
In remarks that drew expressions of outrage by LGBT activists and women’s rights groups, Wilson recounted how his son had complained that he could not find a date for his high school prom.
“He said, ‘Dad, I ain’t got nobody to take to the prom because all the girls in my class are gay. There ain’t but two of them straight and both are ugly.’”
Wilson continued, “But when you get down to this thing, woman falling down on another woman, strapping herself up with something. It ain’t real. That thing ain’t got no feeling in it. It ain’t natural.”
Turning to his concern about gay men, Wilson told his congregation, “Any time somebody got to slap some grease on your behind, and stick something in you, it’s something wrong with that. Your butt ain’t made for that.”
Following a flurry of news reports about the sermon, which began when the Blade broke the story after obtaining an recorded copy of Wilson’s sermon, Wilson issued an apology that some in the LGBT community said wasn’t sincere.
“Some people in the community were offended by the language I used in my message, which I will admit was intemperate,” Wilson told the Washington Post. “I apologize to anyone who was hurt by the language that I used.”
The Post reported that Wilson added, “I do not apologize for raising a very serious issue concerning our young girls, some as young as 10 and 11 years of age, who are engaging in same-sex relations.”
Three months later, in October 2005, Wilson angered gay activists on a separate matter when he reportedly blocked black gay activist and former Clinton administration official Keith Boykin from speaking at an African American civil rights rally on the National Mall known as the Millions More Movement March. Wilson served as national executive director of the march.
Boykin was scheduled to speak at the event following extensive negotiations between the National Black Justice Coalition, an LGBT group, and organizers of the Millions More Movement. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, the event’s lead organizer, initially agreed to allow a gay speaker and didn’t object when activists decided Boykin would be a speaker representing the black LGBT community. Wilson objected late to Boykin taking the stage and his appearance was scrapped.
Ray said he believes Wilson has “come a long way” since his 2005 actions. Ray noted that while Wilson personally opposes same-sex marriage on religious grounds, he chose not to become involved with efforts by his fellow ministers to campaign against the city’s same-sex marriage law passed by the City Council in December.
In a statement released this week, Wilson said, “I have enjoyed getting to know and working with Clark. He knows that I support full civil equality for all residents of the District of Columbia — including those who comprise the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender & Questioning (GLBTQ) Community.”
Ray supporter Joel Lawson, a gay activist and Dupont Circle civic leader, said Ray’s acceptance of the Wilson endorsement was an important conciliatory gesture.
“I think Clark is showing leadership in building a bridge through and across some very uncomfortable territory,” Lawson said. “We have gay marriage now. We’ve won. The question now is do we expand our discussions with one another within this family of D.C. residents.
“They have forged a very improbable connection,” he said of Ray and Wilson’s relationship. “And I think that is progress.”
But in the GLAA blog, Mitch Wood, the group’s president, expressed skepticism about how much Wilson may have changed in his views on LGBT rights.
“I am all for building bridges across cultures and demographics — but anyone from the gay and lesbian community should be exceptionally wary about embracing a ‘man of God’ with such a tarnished and divisive record,” he said.