Rev Irene Monroe

Obama tap dances around black LGBTQ issues

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | October 30, 2007 3:37 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: African-American, Barack Obama, controversy, Donnie McClurkin, Ellen DeGeneres, ex-gay, Keith Boykin, scandal

When it was disclosed that “re-closeted” gospel singer Rev. Donnie McClurkin could be a liability for Barack Obama’s recent effort to lure South Carolina's black evangelical voters, Obama found himself between a rock and a hard place.

So what did he do?

He immediately distanced himself.

And as a last minute attempt to do damage control, his campaign penned an open letter to the LGBTQ community with signatures from black and white religious and LGBTQ supporters stating the following:

“We believe that Barack Obama is constructing a tent big enough for LGBT Americans who know that their sexual orientation is an innate and treasured part of their being, and for African-American ministers and citizens who believe that their religion prevents them from fully embracing their gay brothers and sisters. And if we are to confront our shared challenges we have to join together, build on common ground, and engage in a civil dialogue even when we disagree.”

Case closed? Not quite.

National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) Chief Executive Officer (and fellow Bilerico Project contributor) H. Alexander Robinson wrote: "The fact that Rev. McClurkin uses his religious beliefs to justify bigotry and discrimination is so damaging that it cannot be addressed with a simple media statement no matter how heartfelt or sincere."

So the Obama campaign came back with an appeasement plan by inviting an openly gay minister, the Rev. Andy Sidden, pastor of Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, S.C. (formerly the Metropolitan Community Church of Columbia).

Surely the Obama camp must have thought they could stop fire before it got out of hand. But it backfired.

Black evangelicals denounced Obama for inviting an openly gay (and white) minister. And the well known African-American anti-gay minister Bishop Harry Jackson Jr. of the High Impact Leadership Coalition told American Family News that Obama has "prostituted the gospel" by “defending the homosexual lifestyle.”

But Obama’s act didn’t get him out of hot water with another consistency in the African-American community – black LGBTQ voters. Many of us denounced the Obama campaign for choosing a white minister.

"It boggles the mind that the Obama campaign would select a white pastor to deal with a situation that is awash in black homophobia," Pam Spaulding of the highly acclaimed blog “Pam’s House Blend” wrote. "A white pastor under these circumstances can only be seen as paternalistic and patronizing. The shields of defensiveness will go up, the message will be ignored."

This story has legs. It has flooded the blogosphere as well as the Obama campaign with complaints and concerns.

And Obama has run from it all, first by not addressing the issue head on without an appearance at the gospel concert featuring McClurkin. Instead, he opted for a virtual appearance. In a videotaped message to the crowd, he said, “The artists you’re going to hear from are some of the best in the world, and favorites of Michelle and myself.”

Second, Obama used his legs to run from the problem and instead, as a way to deflect attention, show off his dance moves on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" the Monday following his three-city gospel tour. Needless to say, Obama has many wondering if his appearance on “Ellen” was another one of his token “Obama-esque” gestures to show the LGBTQ community that he is really dancing to our tune.

"You're the best dancer so far of the presidential candidates," DeGeneres told Obama.

"It's a low mark," Obama replied. "But I'm pretty sure I've got better moves than Giuliani."

Not really. Like Giuliani, Obama has a hard time dialoguing face-to-face with the African-American community, and Obama has a particular problem talking with the LGBTQ African-American community and our allies concerning our civil rights.

Robinson of NBJC is still waiting to meet with Obama about his camp’s discussion to reject two openly black lesbian pastors and two straight black male allies to appear at the concert.

“On behalf of the National Black Justice Coalition, I am writing to request a face-to-face meeting to discuss an urgent matter regarding your recent decision to continue to promote the Embrace The Courage Tour which headlines three of gospel music's most openly homophobic artists; the most volatile of which is the Rev. Donnie McClurkin, “Robinson wrote. “While we appreciate your recent statement reassuring the public that "... gays and lesbians are our brothers and sisters and should be provided the respect, dignity, and rights of all other citizens," we must also remind you that actions speak much louder than words.”

But the wait will be long, if the meeting comes at all. Why? Although the Obama campaign says it "decided to go with someone local," the real deal is that Obama hid his fear of addressing the black LGBTQ community by selecting a white minister to speak to a predominately black anti-gay audience. That’s because it is easier to maintain the myth many of these black evangelical voters hold – that queerness is a “white” thing – than to address the reality that his “big tent” message cannot presently accommodate anti-gay black ministers, gospels singers, and the black LGBTQ community.


Like too many Republicans, the Obama campaign is appealing to black evangelical voters’ prejudices about homosexuality. A September poll conducted by Winthrop University and ETV showed that 74 percent of South Carolina African Americans believe homosexuality is "unacceptable." And the “ex-gay” McClurkin affirms that.

As black, openly gay author and activist Keith Boykin puts it, "If they disinvite McClurkin, they run the risk of offending black voters who are inspired by McClurkin's message and don't know or don't care about the gay controversy. If they go ahead with McClurkin, they run the risk of alienating gay voters who have supported and contributed to their campaign since the beginning.”

And with these two warring tensions in the African-American community, Obama is not able to craft a unifying message that resonates with both groups.

Instead, it’s easier for Obama to do a dance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show” while tap dancing around black LGBTQ issues.

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Obama had never planned to appear at the event, and to criticize him for this is silly and dishonest. Unfortunately some in the blogosphere, like Steve Ralls,lied and said Obama was "touring" with McClurckin. This was never the case.

And Rev Irene: I'm going to give you the opportunity once again to correct your assertion about Obama's team making an announcement at the values voter summit in your previous column. Are you going to be honest? Or are you going to let the lie stand?