A controversy erupted this week over the decision by Mayor Vincent Gray and the D.C. Arts and Humanities Commission to ask Grammy Award-winning gospel artist Donnie McClurkin not to perform in last week’s “Reflections on Peace: From Gandhi to King” event in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. McClurkin, an acclaimed artist in gospel music, is also a well-known face of the “ex-gay” movement and publicly says that he has been “delivered” from “the curse of homosexuality.” This controversy, however, is about much more than McClurkin being “ex-gay.” Those of us in the black LGBT community know that over the years he has made much more hurtful statements.
A series of YouTube videos that no longer exist, but are well documented on Rod McCullom’s Rod 2.0 blog, document some of the homophobic statements that McClurkin has made in the past. He has made particularly vicious comments about gay youth. He referred to gay male youth as “broken and feminine” and further stated, “I see feminine men, feminine boys, everywhere I go … No, don’t applaud ‘cuz it ain’t funny. It’s because we failed. I see them everywhere.” He also made hateful statements toward lesbian youth by stating, “[t]hese young girls are just as bad as the boys in homosexuality, you don’t see it. They can hide … but there are some evil young hard butch girls.”
McClurkin’s comments are dangerous. He is a mega-star in the gospel music community and many black LGBT youth were raised in the black church, are fans of McClurkin’s music and are aware of McClurkin’s stance. According to a study by the National Strategy for Black Gay Youth in America, 43 percent of black gay youth have either attempted suicide or thought about it. The study then goes on to discuss issues that black LGBT youth face, such as bullying; mental, physical, and sexual abuse; and homelessness. The lack of family and community acceptance was noted as one of the biggest concerns for black LGBT youth. Thus, it sends a particularly harmful message to these youth if someone of McClurkin’s stature who has publicly vilified them is allowed to perform at a city-sponsored event.
If city officials had allowed McClurkin to perform after being made aware of McClurkin’s vile, homophobic statements, the District would have been complicit in sending LGBT youth the message that they are not valued. I applaud the city for standing up for LGBT youth by sending a message that it will not publicly support someone with a history of hate speech toward the LGBT community and who has not disavowed those views.
McClurkin and his supporters have portrayed this controversy as an attack on people of faith, but that could not be further from the truth. There are many of us, both LGBT and straight, who are people of faith and supportive of LGBT rights. I had the pleasure to worship with such people this past Sunday at Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ here in D.C.
I know first-hand how soul-stirring McClurkin’s music is. His music is passionate, makes you feel good, and gives you inspiration to make it through troubled times. If he did not have a history of homophobia, I would own several of his CDs. So, I understand why some people were clamoring to get McClurkin to perform and why they were disappointed that he did not attend.
This situation was not ideal. The ideal situation would have been if the event organizers and city officials working with them had done their due diligence on the front end and never invited McClurkin. Since that was not done, however, the result was the correct one.
It would be doubly insulting if an unapologetic proponent of anti-LGBT hate speech performed at an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, which coincides with Bayard Rustin, an openly, gay black man and lead organizer of the march, being posthumously honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. advocated for equality for all people in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington. It is not too much to ask that those who participate in official events commemorating the March on Washington adhere to the same principles of equality for all.
Lateefah Williams is a writer, attorney and community activist in D.C. She is the immediate past president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the District’s largest LGBT political organization. Reach her at dcprogressivepotpourri.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her @lateefahwms.