LGBT activists have expressed concern that the D.C. government paid $80,000 this year for a performance at the city’s annual Emancipation Day celebration by a gospel singer who has publicly called for gays to abandon the “homosexual lifestyle.”
Internationally acclaimed gospel singer and musician Kirk Franklin, the winner of seven Grammy Awards, gave an outdoor concert April 16 in Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington as part of this year’s Emancipation Day festivities.
“He has a First Amendment right to say whatever he believes,” said Earl Fowlkes, president and CEO of the Center for Black Equity, which advocates for the black LGBT community.
“However, I would not want my tax dollars to go to anyone who espouses which is in essence homophobia any more than I would want my tax dollars to go toward anyone who espouses racism or who was anti-Semitic,” Fowlkes told the Blade. “It’s just not appropriate.”
Although Franklin, 43, reflects his deeply held Christian beliefs in his songwriting and performances, his comments about LGBT people and homosexuality have surfaced mostly in media interviews and in his 2010 book, “The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life’s Storms.”
In most of his comments on the subject, Franklin has called on the church to treat LGBT people with kindness, compassion and love but has insisted “we can never compromise what the Bible says about homosexuality,” as stated in his book.
When he was asked in an Associated Press interview what he sees in the future for the LGBT community in the black church, Franklin reiterated his theme of compassion along with change.
“I think that you have to be, as Scripture would say, ‘as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove’ to lovingly share the truth, to lovingly and to passionately speak the truth in love into the lives of all people to allow that message that you speak…trust that it has enough power to do the changing,” the AP quoted him as saying.
The decision to bring Franklin to D.C. for the Emancipation Day event was made by the office of D.C. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), which has organized and promoted the event since Orange persuaded the Council and city officials to host and sponsor Emancipation Day as an annual city event.
Legislation introduced by Orange and approved by the Council and mayor has made Emancipation Day, which commemorates the freeing of the slaves in the District of Columbia during the Civil War, as an official city holiday.
The total cost of this year’s event, which included a parade as well as entertainment, was $250,000, according to the Washington Post. The Post reported that, “Franklin traveled to the District with a 16-person entourage, including backup singers, …. In addition to Franklin’s $55,000 booking fee, city taxpayers spent $8,758 for airfare, $1,557 for his limousine and $8,721 to put Franklin and his entourage up at the JW Marriott hotel in Washington, including $2,600 for Franklin’s VIP suite. Records attributed $4,215 in food and beverage costs to the entourage.”
Orange has proposed increasing the budget to $350,000 for next year, the Post reported.
“I’m sure that in the decision of securing Mr. Franklin the Council member was not aware of any anti-gay or anti-human rights comments that he might have made,” said James Brown, Orange’s chief of staff.
“The Council member is a strong supporter of the gay community,” he said.
Brown said Orange was out of town this week and couldn’t immediately be reached but would be available for comment upon his return. According to Brown, plans for next year’s Emancipation Day event won’t begin until after the Council returns from its summer recess in September.
Ron Hill, an official associated with the RCA Inspiration recording label who serves as Franklin’s manager in Grapevine, Texas, a Dallas suburb, didn’t return calls seeking an interview with Franklin.
Wayne Besen, founder and leader of Truth Wins Out, a national LGBT organization that monitors efforts by religious groups to help gays change their sexual orientation to heterosexuality through a process known as “conversion therapy,” said many of the advocates of that debunked process have changed their rhetoric and public statements in recent years.
Besen said on the heels of overwhelming scientific evidence that conversion therapy doesn’t work and is harmful to people who undergo such treatment, many of the groups promoting the treatment have dropped their previous harsh rhetoric condemning homosexuality as being evil and calling gay people sinners condemned to hell.
“What we have from people like Kirk Franklin and others is an exercise in double- speak and dishonesty,” Besen said. “But their message is the same – gay people are inferior and we should punish them. As we’re enacting punitive laws and conferring second-class citizenship on them we’re going to sugarcoat it and tell them that we love them.”
Rev. MacArthur Flournoy, director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Faith Partnership Mobilization program, said he, too, supports Franklin’s right to his own views on the subject of homosexuality.
Similar to Fowlkes, Flournoy said he also is concerned that city funds were used to finance Franklin’s appearance.
“To bring someone to an event that symbolizes freedom and the removal of oppression and celebrating freedom and it’s paid for with taxpayer dollars who’s going to espouse a perspective that is oppressive – that’s problematic,” Flournoy told the Blade.
“I think it would help us to get Kirk Franklin, sit him down and have a conversation with him, hear his perspective, hear what his thinking is and simply share what we know to be true,” said Flournoy.
“But at the end of the day, we simply don’t support the use of taxpayer dollars to bring in someone who clearly espouses a perspective that is detrimental to folks and their mental and spiritual health,” he said.
Rev. Cathy Alexander, minister for congregational connections at D.C.’s Metropolitan Community Church, which reaches out to the LGBT community, said she would urge Orange’s office to consider inviting a representative of the LGBT community to help in the selection process for future performers or speakers at the Emancipation Day event.
“My personal statement would be I would certainly hope there would be a conversation around who may be coming on the city’s behalf for an official function recognizing especially emancipation,” she said.
“In my view, we’re honoring the past, the present, and the future of emancipation, Alexander said. “And freedom comes in all forms.”
Joseph Kitchen, a 26-year-old Baptist minister and Prince George’s County Democratic Party activist who’s gay, said he has met Franklin several times at religious functions.
Kitchen, who campaigned for Maryland’s marriage equality law in last year’s referendum election, called on LGBT activists to be cautious about overreacting to situations similar to that surrounding Franklin’s performance at D.C.’s Emancipation Day celebration.
“If Kirk Franklin was a bigot, if he was someone who has espoused hateful feelings toward homosexuals or who had opposed their rights and fairness and equality before the law, then I think that would be different,” he said. “But he has not ever done that.”
Added Kitchen, “He was asked a theological question in a biblical setting and he answered it in the way in which he has been taught. And I think some people just need to understand that.”