May 22, 2013 at 6:40 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
D.C. paid anti-gay gospel singer $80,000
Kirk Franklin, gospel, gay news, Washington Blade, music

Gospel singer Kirk Franklin (Photo by Bigstock)

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.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Pat Robertson, Bishop Harry Jackson and Tony Perkins ALL also say things like that, that the church must have "compassion" for the poor, pitiful, sinful "homosexuals"… So, who would freak out if any of them were invited to speak at this celebration? Uhhh, the entire crowd? Yep.

  • It’s his opinion matter how much we may not like it. It’s no different from Gays that don’t like other gays due to race and or class something in this community we will NEVER have a real discussion about. He never said Kill the gays. It’s a non issue for me. Just something I think The Blade reported so the anti-Black comments will begin to hit this page. Hopefully not.

  • It is 2013. Same-sex marriage is legal in DC and Maryland. Gays can join the military. Yet gays continue to support homophobic churches.

    Everybody knows the black church is full of gays with Stockholm syndrome. When will the story change?

  • As I say in my column this week the City should not be spending taxpayer dollars, many from members of the LGBT community, on bringing someone to perform who is anti-gay and believes we should change. He is entitled to his views but not entitled to my money.

  • Homosexuals are so busy trying to get “their” rights til they don’t care about “all” rights. You believe and feel whatever you believe and feel and let us Christ following, bible believing believers do the same for our rights! Besides, was he asked during this event about his beliefs? Not. He’s working just like the rest of us…it was a paying job. If we start deciding who can work where because of their beliefs…then let the segregation begin…again!

  • @JBrown: “He’s working just like the rest of us… it was a paying job.”

    Did you know it’s ILLEGAL to be fired in 29 states based on sexual orientation?
    Did you know it’s ILLEGAL to be fired in 38 states based on gender identity?

    You’re too busy worrying about your non-existent and broadly discredited “anti-christian” persecution and poisoned by your bilious homophobia to see things clearly.

    I will pray for you…

  • I can see both side of these issue. I myself am a gay Christian who goes to a black baptist church and have found his music to be inspirational and very uplifting. He is entitled to his own opinions and beliefs; however, by throwing our own ignorance around it seems gay folks tend to hurt the cause rather than help. What if a pro-gay, friend of the Human Rights campaign was asked and paid by tax dollars to speak in the heart of the bible belt at a govt event, and the same opinion pieces and articles was written about them. As a person of faith all I can do is hope and pray he will open his mind and realize how damaging his comments are to youth who look up to him, I hope and pray he realizes that we as gay individuals have no control over our sexual attraction just as we can not change our race and ethnicity. Ignorance does not defeat ignorance, it only enhances it and damages both sides in the end.

  • I need to understand the uproar about something that is clearly in the bible. It’s as if people think he made it up. He didn’t. If you read the bible it is there as clear as day. Look, I can’t judge you just like I shouldn’t be judged for not agreeing with your lifestyle. However, like Gossiping, lying, coveting someone’s wife – it is wrong. point blank. A person who does not agree with the homosexual lifestyle should not be seen as Homophobic. It’s like I don’t like cheeseburgers but you do. So what! This man (child of God, like all of us) has the right to say what is true to scripture. If you don’t like it, don’t support his concert. But if his purpose is by God you cannot stop his message.

  • Please look at all of the pro homosexuals that the DC Government pays… I find this deplorable too..However, if they provide the city with a service then they should be paid.. If you want to make and uproar look at the discrimination that non homosexual people encounter when the homosexuals in a power position purposefully seek another homosexual for that position.. If any one should be ashamed it should be those who the government pays to practice overt discrimination…

  • I am sooooo sick of the whole Homosexual thing, it is time for us all to turn to God and His Word, period. We can love one another and still be able to disagree and just because there is a difference does not mean that one is phobic, for goodness sake let’s get it together people!

  • If the bible said condemn heterosexual couples he would he would advocate homosexuality and be all for the lifestyle

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