Steve Ralls

Obama's Ex-Gay Tour Groupie

Filed By Steve Ralls | October 21, 2007 3:52 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Donnie McClurkin, ex-gay

United States Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is on tour. The "Embrace the Change" tour, to be exact. And he's bringing along a bevy of gospel singers with him, including ex-gay activist Donnie McClurkin.

According to the Washington Post, McClurkin . . . "has detailed his struggle with gay tendencies and vowed to battle 'the curse of homosexuality.'" The Post also reported that McClurkin, "wrote on a Christian Web site in 2002 that he struggled with homosexuality after he was molested by male relatives when he was 8 and 13. 'I've been through this and have experienced God's power to change my lifestyle,' he wrote. 'I am delivered and I know God can deliver others, too.'"

"This is another example of how Barack Obama is defying conventional wisdom about how politics is done and giving new meaning to meeting people at the grassroots level,” Joshua DuBois, the campaign’s religious affairs director, said in a release.

And it defies conventional science, too, which has loudly rebuked the claims of the ex-gay movement. Now, will LGBT voters rebuke Obama's decision to embrace McClurkin, too?

Obama's campaign staff is even going so far as to praise the ex-gay activist, saying that, " . . . in Donnie McClurkin you have someone who overcame great adversity to become a role model."

(Note of correction: This quote is actually from the New York Times' music critic, not the Obama campaign. It's an oversight on my part and was misattributed to the campaign.)

Sexual orientation, Senator Obama's team seems to think, is a "great adversity," and overcoming it qualifies someone to be a "role model."

The audacity of hope, indeed.

According to activist and author Keith Boykin, McClurkin's sermons on "struggling" with his sexual orientation, "began with [his] 2001 book, Eternal Victim/Eternal Victor," where he detailed his 20-year journey on the issue.

"Love is pulling you one way and lust is pulling you another and your relationship with Jesus is tearing you," McClurkin told the media. "He says," Boykin reports, "that God delivered him from homosexuality, and since that time, he has been counseling adolescent boys that homosexuality is merely a lifestyle choice that can be overcome."

And now he's on tour with "rock star" Obama's "Embrace the Change" junket across the south.

This, however, is not the change we need.

The New York Times reports that Obama's "tour stops in Charleston on Oct. 26, in Greenwood on Oct. 27 and in Columbia on Oct. 28."

So if you happen to be in Charleston, Greenwood or Columbia, you might want to think about showing up and reminding Senator Obama about those "gay friends in the red states" he so passionately spoke about at the 2004 Democratic convention.

Because Obama's friend McClurkin is no friend to gays.

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Nice try, Steve, but you are spreading misinformation and lies.

The adversity referenced is not sexual orientation, but a childhood filled with rape, drugs, and domestic violence.

It's intellectually dishonest of you to take Obama's staff's comments so wildly out of context to try to make Barak look like he supports the ex-gay movement.

Pretty disgusting of you to use the demeaning term "groupie" as well.

Steve Ralls Steve Ralls | October 21, 2007 6:15 PM

If Senator Obama does not support McClurkin's ex-gay views, then he should disinvite him from the "tour." As America Blog asked this afternoon, "will Obama fire the bigot in his own eyes?"

Regardless of what Obama's staff intended in its statement (and unless you're on staff, I doubt you know), this is not a man to be held up as a role model. He is a man who has spread his own "misinformation and lies" to youth struggling with their sexuality, and that is outrageous and sinful in its own right.

Senator Obama, who has spoken so often about acceptance and tolerance, exhibited neither by including McClurkin in this line-up. He should remove McClurkin immediately and apologize for ever including him in the first place.


Do you have the links to the press releases you're citing?


Could you please be tactful when you're trying to get your point across? It's easy to disregard what you're saying when you come here with that kind of attitude.

Oh, yeah, and register to comment please so that I don't have to approve you.

And while I agree on this one that Obama should do something about this, I still think that Aravosis is pretty low on the LGBT cred right now. Not directly for his stance on trans inclusion, but for his bitter tirades against anyone who opposes "him" (as he says) and for that bizarre anti-butch lesbian post from last Sunday.

Just sayin', it's kinda contradictory for him to ask Obama to take a stand and fire the Grammy award winning choir director behind him because he's homophobic but not be willing to stand in favor of trans-inclusion. If he says that the G's and L's got "shame"d into accepting the T's, which is ridiculous, then who's he to shame Obama?

I prolly wouldn't have cared any other month, but the two events are really close temporally.

Steve Ralls Steve Ralls | October 21, 2007 6:40 PM


The press release is cited in the New York Times article that I link to in the entry.

And if Kevin thinks I'm a little harsh on Obama in this post, he should check out this blogger, who VERY bluntly calls out Obama in no uncertain terms:

Steve, thanks for the talking points.

Unlike you, I study christian music and media culture extensively, and I knew who Donnie McClurkin was long before this episode. McClurkin is not a bigot. He's a messed-up guy with confused ideas about sexuality based on his messed-up life. But he's NEVER condemned anyone, and hasn't ever pushed anti-gay public policy. To portray him as some anti-gay crusader spreading hate betrays a fundamental ignorance about who he is, what he believes, and about the theological dynamics at work in american cultural politics.

Tolerance and acceptance work both ways--Barak's campaign is based on the idea that just because someone disagrees with me, it doesn't make them my enemy--and we can unite for the common good. Your eagerness to cry "bigot" without fully investigating the truth is reckless and wrong.

But that's the kind of sleazy politics you Clintonites love.


Just because someone doesn't know every Christian performer in the US right now doesn't mean that they're practicing "sleazy politics", and I don't see what the Clintons have to do with this. Obviously, this is something that the Obama campaign is going to clear up one way or another, but I don't see how beating up on Steve changes anything.

I think it would be a lot more productive to put "just because someone disagrees with me, it doesn't make them my enemy" and explain just whom McClurkin is.

But I should also point out, Steve, that that second quotation, the one about Donnie being a great role model, didn't come from the Obama campaign, according to the Times link, it came from the Times music critic Nate Chinen.

I don't know of any association between him and the Obama campaign.

Surely Alex, you must recognize that this breed of politics that prioritizes mudslinging "gotcha" politics over factual critical inquiry about issues extends back to the Clinton campaign in the 1992 democratic primary. It's how these folks operate. It's a cynical, meanspirited mode of operation that aggravates the bogus "culture war" mentality (and serves to distract us from issues that really matter.) An example of this is Steve's misleading juxtaposition of quotes from the Obama camp in 2007 with quotes from McClurckin in 2002. (Dude was a bush supporter back then. People change!)

(Also, I have registered, it won't let me post any way except anonymously, it says "wrong text entered" when I use the LJ or AIM logins).

Donnie is a totally amazing performer, a grammy winner as you note. Sort of a gospel version of Luther Vandross. He was a protege of the Winans family, so he essentially came of age in the theologically and politically conservative Christian media industry. At the time, he didn't have any other options or reference points. But now the Christian media industry is now starting to fragment. He's a survivor of sexual abuse--so his ideas about homosexuality were unfortunately shaped by those events as much as the corporate christian media industry that employed him. But he's never been particularly politically active, and unlike many "ex-gay" identified individuals, never engaged in the demonizing anti-gay rhetoric or fought for anti-gay public policy. He just kept on being a gospel singer! He was a Bush supporter and performed at the GOP convention, but like many religious conservatives has been drifting leftward. That Obama's populist politics have brought him into the fold indicates a crumbling of the religious right's stranglehold over Christian political discourse. We should be welcoming this development, encouraging religious communities to think critically about the issues, helping them come to modern understandings of sexuality, rather than demonizing them and calling them bigots.

Good eye on the quote from the music critic, Alex. What's the Bilerico policy on corrections? That misattribution seems significant enough to warrant one.

As does the mischaracterization of McClurkin as an "ex-gay activist", when the dude has never done any activism.

Steve Ralls Steve Ralls | October 21, 2007 8:27 PM

I'm happy to acknowledge a correction on the attribution of the quote. That was an honest mistake on my part.

I maintain, however, that McClurkin is an ex-gay activist. He has written books about it; given sermons about it; spoken to the media about; and counseled adolescents about it. That's activism, in my book, and we should call it out for what it is.

Kevin Erickson | October 21, 2007 8:36 PM

It's not enough "acknowledge" an error. You have to change the initial post. Otherwise, you're still spreading misinformation.

And no, that's not activism. That's advocacy.

I mean, look at dude's website. Doesn't even mention sexuality.

Our system for fact checking is just to point it out to the contributor, and they change it if they agree that they made a mistake. These are good people with good intentions, so that's usually enough. And ultimately they're the ones who are responsible for what they're saying.

On calling him an "activist", that's not a matter of factual correctness, and I think Steve's right on that if he's given sermons and talked to the media and written books.

I don't know about the AIM or LiveJournal things. Jeez, always another problem around here. Why not try registering with MT or TypeKey? We don't have many problems with those ones.

you must recognize that this breed of politics that prioritizes mudslinging "gotcha" politics over factual critical inquiry about issues extends back to the Clinton campaign in the 1992 democratic primary.
Well, it didn't start with them and it's not going to die without them, and it certainly doesn't extend to every one of their supporters. I think that the issues raised by this are real - ex-gayism isn't value neutral, it's a direct attack against gays and sexual autonomy. And it does sound like he's trying to "convert" others....
Steve Ralls Steve Ralls | October 21, 2007 8:46 PM

"It's not enough 'acknowledge' an error. You have to change the initial post. Otherwise, you're still spreading misinformation."

And guess what? I did. (See above.)

But I absolutely WILL NOT change my perspective on his 'activism.' It is what it is.

And this has nothing to do with my support of Senator Clinton's presidential campaign. If she were holding McClurkin up as a role model, I'd call her out on it, too. But she isn't; Senator Obama is. And no presidential candidate should be putting him on stage as a positive example when he's telling young kids that they can pray away the gay. It's irresponsible, it flies in the face of science and it sends the absolute wrong message to the public.

I remain resolute: Obama should disinvite him and apologize for having him in the line-up.

Haha, what a pitiful game of semantics with discussing "advocacy" and "activism."

By the way, check out Pam's site. If calling gays and lesbians liars is not anti-gay demonization, I don't know what is.

OK, one more comment and then I need to get to bed....

There is a space between "Activist" and "advocate". I'd call myself a queer equality advocate but not an activist since most of what I do is sit around in front of the computer and type things up in defense of it. I'm not arrogant enough to call that activism, but it's definitely advocacy.

But I'm thinking that sermons and media appearances are a bit more. Sure, it's not policy-making, but there's a politics outside of prime ministers who cheated in the primaries - there's a politics of cultural movements, etc.

Wait, would I then meet that criterion? I dunno, it just seems really arrogant and totally lacking perspective to refer to blogging as activism. I think there has to be some sort of self-sacrifice....

OK, but I'm just saying that the words are different. And if Donnie's changed his opinions, which he may well have, now would be a good time to explain that.

I think it's a bit infantilizing to present him as a product of few options at this point when he's obviously someone who has much more access to over come his internalized homophobia than most of us do.

There is a clear attempt to make him into something he's not, though. He is not an active part of the ex-gay movement alongside actual activists like Alan Chambers or Stephen Bennett. He hasn't to my knowledge, ever even self-identified as "ex-gay."

He hasn't written "books" about "it". He wrote one book, a memoir, wherein he talked about his personal experiences with sexuality, among many other topics.

He didn't "counsel" adolescents, so much as he relayed his experiences to people who emailed him.

He didn't "speak to the media" so much as he answered their questions openly in interviews. (if you look at the interviews, he frequently declined to attack the "gay community" when given opportunities.)

Obama's not holding him up as an awesome role model. He's holding him up as a great gospel singer! Which he is. Prolly an inartful choice on obama's part, but not the end of the world.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | October 21, 2007 11:35 PM


It sounds to me that you are making excuses for McClurkin's anti-gay attitudes and actions. Obama should explain why he is touring with someone who like McClurkin and I say this as someone who is supporting Obama's candidacy.

McClurkin doesn't have to be as virulent in his homophobia as Chambers or Bennett. That he speaks out against gays is enough.

What i am saying though is that McClurkin doesn't really "speak out against gays." He's just morally opposed to homosexuality. So is half the country. Yet he's willing to find common ground and work for a candidate that supports legal equality. That's a positive development for american religious politics. If we're going to make some arbitrary litmus test that our candidates can't have anyone who has thus far missed the boat on the morality of homosexuality appear at their campaign stops, we're being impractical, and demanding pandering, excluding half the country.

There are a lot of people who have moral reservations about homosexuality but also oppose discrimination. We can choose either to get them on board and educate them along the way, or we can label them hateful bigots and the conversation ends there. I would hope we would choose pragmatism over self-righteous indignance. Let's not be stupid.

Kevin - your Movable Type account should work now. You didn't click the link in the e-mail to activate it. I activated it for you.

Obama's just being pragmatic, he'll come back for Gays later. This time. Promise. When the GLB lobby shows it has the votes.

And it's very selfish of GLBs to get in the way of having the first Black President. Civil Rights are only gained incrementally. A minority is getting in the way of the hopes and aspirations of tens of millions of African-Americans.

And besides which, the GLB lobby is relatively recent. Who invited them in to the Civil Rights movement anyway?

Sorry, just channeling John Aravosis.

Zoe, that's very funny. I get your point, except that John's "pragmatism" is based on privilege and Obama's pragmatism is based on genuine coalition-building. He's NOT waiting for everyone to come around--he's moving forward on LGBT issues now while still finding room for that half of the country who doesn't get it yet to be part of the team.

My, my, my, what a little cat fight we have going here ... but I must say, this is a situation where we need to be immensely circumspect and careful.

(1) I'm not sure that Obama including McClurkin as a gospel singer means he also endorses anything McClurkin has put out there regarding the topic of "ex-gay" --- if Obama had selected Donna Summers or Gloria Gaynor, would we here at Bilerico then be obligated to re-dissect these two singers also?

(2) "Ex-gay" is itself an issue that requires carefulness. I've written about this before.

Although practically all of us here believe that individuals have a right to their sex lives whether hetero- or homo-, I think we also must acknowledge that individuals have a right to be celibate, or abstinent, regardless of what internal sexual urges they may or may not experience. Acknowledging this, there are layers in the ex-gay/anti-gay movement that form a continuum that potentially extend from realistic/healthy to pure superstition-fantasyland/psychotic. If a gay man decides he wants to keep his dick in his pants, and praying to Jesus helps him do that, then that may be a decision that many of us would find unfortunate --- but even so, you and me disagreeing with it is irrelevant, since that may be his truth, and he certainly has the right to make that decision and follow through with it. But conversely, if some pseudo-religious, psycho-babble-brandishing lunatic like Paul Cameron, or Dr. Laura, or Ted Haggard, claims that praying to Jesus will effect physical changes in one's brain so that one is rendered heterosexual when previously homosexual --- well, I don't have proof, but with my science-based understanding of brain-wiring, I'm willing to call that pure propaganda. And when the propaganda is obviously politically motivated, the wolf in sheep's clothing becomes unmistakable.

So, as we counter the statements, influence, and effect of the ex-gay movement, we also have to be careful not to stomp on the right of any one individual to complete self-determination. Even Donnie McClurkin, and even teenage boys that look to Donnie McClurkin.

(3) Yet, after having said all that, I'll cut to the chase re Obama: There are many, really good, African-American gospel singers that are not as politically problematic as Donnie McClurkin --- and if Obama is good at playing the political game, he better drop McClurkin in a millisecond. If he thinks the GLBT political base isn't large enough and vocal enough to cause major problems in his campaign, he has a painful lesson ahead of him. Moreover, I hope it doesn't come to this, because --- and here I try to select wording a bit more artfully than John Aravosis did --- I can think of few things that could shatter whatever tenuous political alliances we have managed to put into place between voters of color and GLBT voters over the last few decades.

bill perdue | October 22, 2007 3:41 PM

The choice of a jackass as the Democratic Party’s symbol can't have been an accident.

Jackass Party candidate Obama has latched on to Hillary Clintons method of appearing with bigots like the ex gay McClurkin and ‘dialoging’ with christians. She's been doing that for the last year or so and it shows in her poll numbers and her draw from Republicans and bigoted christian women. If he's to have any chance at all Obama will have to scurry much further and faster to the right to pick up some of Clintons bigot votes.

Clinton got her early lead because she and Bill Clinton supported the federal DADT and DOMA laws that shoved GLBT folk into second class status citizenship. Gay basher Pelosi and quisling Frank were doing the same when they eliminated transsexuals from federal civil rights protections entirely. Now their gutted version of ENDA is at best a symbolic, toothless bill that will only appeal to a few seriously clueless (or rightwing) GLBT folks and to the bosses who make a mint paying lower wages to us. It's been overwhelmingly rejected by the active wing of the GLBT movement.

The major candidates of both parties either oppose samesex marriage or take the cowards way out to mollify bigots, a carry over of their decade long support for the federal DOMA. DOMA passed with a bone crushing bipartisan majority of 85-24 in the Senate and 342-67 in the House. Bill Clinton, this was before Monica’s dress got stained, hastily signed it into law to "guarantee the sanctity of marriage" but in truth as a draw for bigoted voters in the congressional elections that occurred two weeks later in the fall of '96.
The road the Democrats and Republicans have chosen is leading them and their supporters' inescapably to the right. The superficial distinctions between the parties will diminish even further as issues like Bush's oil war in the Mideast, their common anti-labor program and their unending attempts to appeal to bigots' leads to more and more shake-ups and splintering in US politics as a whole.

A Republican politician is a baboon in a people suit with a totalitarian christian attached at the hip. A Democratic politician is a Republican in drag.

More corrections for you, Steve!

Obama is not taking the guy on tour. He is one of four performers at one of three concerts in South Carolina. It doesn't appear that Obama is even appearing at the event. Your post is once again, wildly inaccurate and misleading!

The info on the event is here.

I hope you'll do the right thing and issue a correction.

Steve Ralls Steve Ralls | October 22, 2007 8:00 PM

Tribune media is calling it a 'tour,' so I think I'll go with them.

You must be plotzing that this is getting so much press attention!

Three events is a tour.

One event is not a tour.

Saying that McClurckin is going on tour with Obama is, therefore, a lie. If you feel like spreading lies, go ahead.

and others out there who actually believe what Kevin wrote "Unlike you, I study christian music and media culture extensively, and I knew who Donnie McClurkin was long before this episode. McClurkin is not a bigot. He's a messed-up guy with confused ideas about sexuality based on his messed-up life. But he's NEVER condemned anyone,...."

You must not have studied Christian music that closely because you missed some VERY bigoted statements made by not only Donnie McClurkin but also MAry,Mary who are also on the tour. Check out the links below.

"homosexuals are trying to kill our children.”
Donnie McClurkin

"They have issues and need somebody to encourage them like everybody else - just like the murderer, just like the one full of pride, just like the prostitute, everybody needs God."
Erica from MAry,MAry

Hezekiah Walker is well know for his anti-gay views

There's more just check out the links below the quotes.You can play the semantics game all you want but its VERY clear these are awful remarks that represent people who are bigots.

Its also important to note that NBJC opposes this tour just as they opposed Bush and McClurkin teaming up during his last re-election campaign.

Furthermore (Kevin and others) these anti-gay acts are performing at 2 of the 3 days thats a majority of the shows.

You can play the semantics game all you want but its VERY clear these are awful remarks that represent people who are bigots and Obama is associating himself with them which is the opposite of what he claims to represent. The question is what is he going to do now?

I still can't find any source where Donnie said "homosexuals are trying to kill our children".

The Mary Mary comments IN CONTEXT are an expression of goodwill to their gay fans--they (like about 50% of the country) don't agree with homosexuality, but don't discriminate. They refuse to bash gays or engage in anti-gay politics. Less than ideal, but a good step forward.

CHris Sullivan | October 25, 2007 12:43 PM

This can be analyzed to the ends of the Earth - but it does not change one critical fact: If the shoe were on the other foot and Obama were merely the voter and the candidate were a white man who had invited a performer on who it was learned had a history of making statements that were anti-black - would Obama accept that white candidate putting a black minister on board as acceptable without withdrawing the anti-black performer. Obviously not. Everything else said about this topic is irrelevant. "Advocacy vs. Activism" - what a ridiculous topic. Don't try to justify his inclusion by splitting hairs. Obama would not accept this "compromise" if the shoe were on the other foot and neither do I. He has lost my vote and I'm certain the votes of many GLBT people as well. Period.