Every year Mayor Tom Meninoâ€™s Office of Arts, Tourism & Special Events puts on its annual Boston GospelFest at City Hall Plaza.
And because the Gospelfest is a public and taxpayer-funded community event, itâ€™s opened to all — even the African American lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities.
But with Pastor Donnie McClurkin, the poster boy for African American “ex-gay” ministries, who spews anti-gay religion-based vitriol, billed as the main event, many in the African American LGBTQ communities will not be in attendance at this yearâ€™s event. And neither will the mayor.
Menino ranks among the most pro-LGBTQ mayors across the country. He refused to participate in Bostonâ€™s St. Patrickâ€™s Day parade when organizers barred an LGBTQ group from marching. And he was always an advocate for equal marriage. Menino has thrown his weight around and has used his power on behalf of LGBTQ civil rights, and have succeeded in doing so.
However, when it comes to moving Bostonâ€™s black ministers on LGBTQ civil rights, Meninoâ€™s struggle has been and is like that of other elected officials and queer activists — immovable. Sadly many of Bostonâ€™s black ministers are in lock step with black homophobic ministers across the country.
Meninoâ€™s absence from this yearâ€™s Gospelfest is another sad example of how Bostonâ€™s black ministers, an influential and powerful political voting bloc of the mayorâ€™s, would rather compromise its decade-long friendship with City Hall than denounce McClurkinâ€™s appearance.
And while Bostonâ€™s black ministersâ€™ support of McClurkinâ€™s appearance put the mayor between a rock and a hard place with its LGBTQ and African American communities, it also puts Menino in a difficult spot with his African American LGBTQ communities.
It is Greater Bostonâ€™s African American LGBTQ communities that will feel denounced at this yearâ€™s Gospelfest, wishing the mayorâ€™s office had contacted someone from our community in their vetting of McClurkin.
For many in the African American LGBTQ communities, we, too, along with our heterosexual Christian brothers and sisters, excitedly await Bostonâ€™s annual Gospelfest.
Gospelfest brings together huge gatherings of black church-going Christians across Greater Boston and across denominational affiliations in fellowship with one another.
While for many African American heterosexual Christians, Gospefest is a second worship service for them for the day because itâ€™s always held on a Sunday, for many African American LGBTQ Christians, Gospelfest is our only worship service for the year.
With too few African American open and welcoming churches in Greater Boston, Gospelfest affords many of us in our black LGBTQ communities a sweet moment — as unabashedly Christians and unapologetically queers — incorporate worship and celebration with our faith communities in an inclusive and public space.
“God did not call you to such perversions. Your only hope is Jesus Christ. Were it not for this Jesus I would be a homosexual today. This God is a deliverer,” is just an example of the continuous flow of McClurkinâ€™s homophobic remarks stated at the Church of God in Christâ€™s (COGIC) 102nd Holy Convocation International Youth Department Worship Service in November 2009.
Ms. Julie Burns, the Director of Arts, Tourism & Special Events for the Mayorâ€™s Office, came late to knowing about McClurkinâ€™s anti-gay rhetoric.
When Burns called me on June 24 about the McClurkin kerfuffle with Gospelfest just weeks away, she was apologetic.
“I learned yesterday — through the Phoenix article regarding the City of Boston Gospel Fest — of the depth and breath of Donnie McClurkinâ€™s views on the Gay community. I am embarrassed to say that I was not aware of this and we obviously should have vetted him further. Gospel Fest is in its 10th year and is arguably the largest Gospel event in New England. Minister McClurkin was recommended to us by a number of people and we were swayed by his artistic honors. Of course, this does not excuse the situation that we now find ourselves in! Please rest assured that Mayor Menino did not know anything about this and would never condone â€™hate speechâ€™ of any kind,” Burns wrote in an e-mail to me.
In asking for my help, I supplied Burns with a list of ten top tier singers of Rev. Donnie McClurkinâ€™s caliber. In an e-mail to Burns I wrote stating “there is no top singing African American gospel singer whoâ€™s publicly an ally to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities. While many of the singers are LGBTQ — because black gospel music is the expression of a â€™black gay male gospel aestheticâ€™ — very few are as public about their denunciation of the LGBTQ community as â€™ex-gayâ€™ Rev. Donnie McClurkin.”
Although many of us African American LGBTQ will not be in attendance at this yearâ€™s Gospelfest, the crowd will be, nonetheless, shouting to a black gay male gospel aesthetic, because McClurkin will be there.