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‘Ex-gay’ gospel singer McClurkin to perform at King Memorial

Event organized by D.C. government agency

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Martin Luther King Jr., gay news, Washington Blade
Martin Luther King Jr., gay news, Washington Blade

Gospel singer Donnie McClurkin is scheduled to perform at the site of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Gospel singer Donnie McClurkin, who has said God delivered him from the sin of homosexuality, is scheduled to perform Saturday evening at a concert at the site of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in D.C.

The concert, entitled “Reflections on Peace: From Gandhi to King,” is the first in a series of events scheduled to take place in the nation’s capital over the next two weeks to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for civil rights at which King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

An announcement issued on Wednesday by a public relations firm promoting the concert says McClurkin, a Grammy Award winner, was “just added” to the list of performers at the event. The announcement says the concert was being organized by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, a city agency whose members are appointed by the mayor.

Among those receiving the announcement by email was D.C. gay activist and longtime civil rights advocate Phil Pannell, who expressed strong objections to McClurkin’s scheduled appearance at the event.

“The statements he has made are just vile,” said Pannell in referring to McClurkin’s public statements about homosexuality. “This is a District government sanctioned event, and I just find it incredible that they can do something like this.”

A spokesperson for the Commission on the Arts and Humanities couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Doxie McCoy, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, said the office had no immediate comment.

“Since this is the first we are hearing about it, we will look into it,” she told the Blade in an email.

McClurkin’s views on homosexuality made national headlines in October 2007, when he performed at an outdoor gospel concert in South Carolina organized by the presidential campaign of then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Upon learning of McClurkin’s appearance at the event, gay activists criticized Obama for inviting the fundamentalist minister and singer, saying he had emerged at the time as a leading figure in the “ex-gay” movement.

Mental health experts have said scientific studies show someone’s sexual orientation cannot be changed and attempts to do so usually result in harmful psychological effects on the person attempting to make such a change.

“Don’t tell me that I stand up and I say vile words against the gay community because I don’t,” CNN quoted McClurkin as saying at the 2007 concert. “I don’t speak against homosexuality. I tell you that God delivered me from homosexuality.”

Phillip Pannell, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay activist Phil Pannell expressed strong objections to Donnie McClurkin’s scheduled appearance at the MLK event. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Pannell has said the message delivered by McClurkin and others who claim to love gay people but hate the sins they commit by being gay have had a devastating impact on gay youth, especially black gay youth who often are raised in religious families.

Wayne Besen, founder and executive director of Truth Wins Out, a national LGBT group that monitors the “ex-gay” movement, said McClurkin has been less vocal in recent years about his views on homosexuality. But Besen said McClurkin has not said anything to indicate his views on the subject have changed.

Gay Democratic activist Jerry Clark, who was appointed by Mayor Vincent Gray to a mayoral committee to help organize D.C.-related events for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, said organizers of the concert did not inform the committee that McClurkin was being considered as a performer.

“I knew nothing about this until tonight,” Clark said on Wednesday. “If I had been consulted I would have said no. It’s a total shock to me.”

Clark said he was aware that the concert was taking place and has great admiration for some of the others scheduled to perform at the event.

Organizers have said that in keeping with Martin Luther King’s following of the non-violent civil disobedience tactics used by freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi of India, the concert would include performances by a diverse array of musicians, including some from South Asia.

Prior to the announcement that McClurkin would be performing, literature promoting the concert described the event as a “free multi-cultural concert experience of sacred classical music, traditional Sri-Lankan and Indian sacred songs, traditional hymns, and African American gospel songs.”

An announcement said the concert would be “headlined by internationally recognized Sri-Lankan concert pianist and music director Soundarie David Rodrigo.”

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Comings & Goings

McCarty named director of partnerships at Universe

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Steven McCarty

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected].

Congratulations to Steven McCarty on his new position with Universe, as Director of Partnerships. Universe supports movement organizations, labor unions, and Democratic campaigns, with the software they need to win. On accepting the new position he said, “I’m most excited to take my years of campaign and technology experience to down-ballot Democrats across the country as we fight to preserve our Democracy this election cycle.” 

Prior to this, McCarty was Business Development + Partnerships Lead, at STAC labs (State Technology Acceleration Collaborative), where he spearheaded strategic business development initiatives, expanding STAC labs’ partner network by 400% with the launch of the Progressive Tech Index and doubling DemLaunch user base from four to 11 states within a year. Prior to that he was president at The Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C.; Senior Customer Success Manager at Crowdskout; Vice President at Circle K International, Indianapolis, Ind.; and a summer fellow at Michigan State AFL-CIO, Lansing, Mich. 

He has done a lot of volunteer work, including being an elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for ANC 2G04, representing Blagden Alley, Naylor Court, and Shepherd Court. He received a Youth Champion Award for outstanding support to LGBTQ Youth, from SMYAL; and was named a Kiwanis Member of the Year, Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C.

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District of Columbia

Cherry Fund files lawsuit  against Republiq Hall

LGBTQ nonprofit says breach of contract led to $137,000 in lost revenue

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Cherry Fund claims Republiq Hall canceled a contract for one of its popular events. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Cherry Fund, the D.C.-based nonprofit organization that has raised money for HIV/AIDS, mental health, and LGBTQ organizations for the past 27 years, filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court on May 31 charging Republiq Hall, a large entertainment venue in Northeast D.C, with abruptly and improperly cancelling Cherry Fund’s reservation to rent the hall for an April 6 event expected to draw 2,000 paid guests.

The event was to be one of several circuit dance parties that Cherry Fund produces as part of its annual Cherry weekend in April, which has raised several million dollars for LGBTQ related organizations since the Cherry weekend  events began in 1996.  

The lawsuit, which charges Republiq Hall with breach of contract, says the contract signed by the two parties in January called for Cherry Fund to pay Republiq Hall an initial deposit of $3,500 on Jan. 10, 2024, to be applied to a nonrefundable rental fee totaling $7,000 for the one-time use of the space on April 6.

Republiq Hall is located in a large former warehouse building at 2122 24th Place, N.E., near the intersection of Bladensburg Road and New York Avenue. 

According to the lawsuit, under the contract, Cherry Fund “was responsible for promoting the event, booking talent, and managing ticket sales,” with Cherry Fund to “retain all door fee revenues and a percentage of the net bar sales.”

The lawsuit states, “On February 28, after Plaintiff had already begun promoting the event and booking talent, the Defendant unilaterally and without just cause demanded an additional $9,000 from the Plaintiff. When the Plaintiff refused to pay the additional amount, the Defendant cancelled the reservation.”

 As a result of Republiq Hall’s action, the lawsuit states, Cherry Fund was “forced to book an alternative venue with significantly less capacity, resulting in substantial financial losses.” 

It says as a direct result of the alleged breach of contract, Cherry Fund “suffered financial damages in the amount of $130,000 in lost door fees and $7,000 in a lost percentage of the net bar sales that were estimated to be collected on the date of the event.”

A spokesperson for Republiq Hall did not respond to a phone message from the Washington Blade requesting a comment and a response to the lawsuit’s allegations.

Court records show that Superior Court Judge Juliet J. McKenna, who is presiding over the case, scheduled an initial hearing for the case on Sept. 6. McKenna issued an order providing guidance for how a civil litigation case should proceed that includes a requirement that Republiq Hall must file a response to the lawsuit within 21 days of being officially served a copy of the lawsuit complaint.

Sean Morris, the Cherry Fund president, issued a statement expressing disappointment over the developments leading to the lawsuit.

“Our organization, powered by volunteer efforts, relies on our annual event to fundraise for local non-profits,” he said. “This abrupt and unforeseen demand, and subsequent cancellation, has severely affected our ability to support vital community programs focused on HIV/AIDS, mental health, and LGBTQ+ advocacy,” Morris says in his statement.

The lawsuit concludes by stating, “The Plaintiff, the Cherry Fund, respectfully requests the following relief: Direct compensatory damages for the lost benefits it was entitled to under the terms of the contract; Restitution for the benefits retained by the Defendant in unjust enrichment; Reasonable attorney fees and costs of this action; and Any other relief this court deems just and proper.”

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Maryland

Silver Spring Pride sign rebuilt in memory of beloved neighbor

GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $4,000

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Tony Brown's neighbors help repaint the Pride sign his late partner created in their Silver Spring, Md., neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Molly Chehak)

Residents of Silver Spring’s Rosemary Hills neighborhood have come together to rebuild a Pride sign. 

The sign was constructed in June 2020, and was meant to stay in place throughout Pride Month. Neighborhood residents, however, requested it stay up past its intended month-long display, and has remained in place for more than four years. 

The sign spelling LOVE is at the neighborhood’s entrance between Sundale and Richmond Streets. It was made from plywood and the O was painted in the colors of the Pride flag.

“We wanted to take it down, but we just felt it was not ours anymore and belonged to the neighborhood.” Tony Brown told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview. “It was a positive thing for the neighborhood and began to take on a life of its own.” 

Brown and his partner, Mike Heffner, designed the sign and said the Black Lives Matter movement inspired them to create it as a strong symbol of an accepting community.

The sign was vandalized numerous times last fall, resulting in neighborhood residents taking turns repairing it. Brown and his partner could not do the repairs themselves because Heffner was fighting Stage 4 lung cancer.

Heffner passed away on Oct. 6, 2023.

A GoFundMe page was set up to help raise funds for the replacement Pride sign, and it has raised more than $4,000. The replacement sign is more permanent and made of metal.

“I can’t speak for the neighborhood overall, but people who knew Mike I think are happy that we were able to honor his memory with this sign because this sign is so him,” Molly Chehak, a friend who lives next door to Brown, told the Blade. “He (Heffner) was an outgoing super social (person) who just made you feel good the way this sign does. It’s a perfect tribute to him.” 

Chehak and other neighbors created the GoFundMe account.

Heffner’s family and his neighbors are still working to rebuild the Pride sign. It has become a memorial to Heffner.

“We wanted to do one that was clearly a Pride reference,” said Brown, noting the L is a fully painted Pride flag that spirals across the entire letter. 

“For the O we wanted to do something reminiscent of times in the past, a throwback to the 60’s and 70’s so it’s a hippie montage of flowers and butterflies,” he said. 

Brown described the V as being colorful, nonbinary people hugging each other with the idea that love is more than what one may see. 

“During COVID, he had started painting rocks and putting kind and fun messages on them leaving them around places as sort of a pay it forward Karma and so the E is basically that stylized writing and to embrace a bunch of ways we embrace love,” he said. 

The final letter had the phrase “love is love” written repeatedly in various handwritings to pay homage to Heffner and what he did for his neighborhood during the pandemic. Brown’s four daughters — one of whom is a professional artist — and their friends designed it.

The landscape around the sign has also been transformed with rocks that honors Heffner’s love for Rosemary Hills and his passion for rocks.

Chehak also said Heffner always wanted a bench, and neighbors are looking to install one soon next to the Pride sign.

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