Pastor Donnie McClurkin, an uber-star in the stratosphere of black gospel music, learned his light was extinguished before boarding his plane to perform at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.
McClurkin was scheduled to be one of the singers at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial during the “Reflections on Peace: From Gandhi to King” event. But D.C.’s mayor, Vincent C. Gray, dispatched the following statement responding to LGBTQ activists’ outcry of McClurkin’s appearance.
“The Arts and Humanities Commission and Donnie McClurkin’s management decided that it would be best for him to withdraw because the purpose of the event is to bring people together. The purpose of the event is to promote peace and harmony. That is what King was all about.”
McClurkin, a three-time Grammy winner and revered judge on BET’s “Sunday Best,” a reality TV-gospel singing competition show, doesn’t get it that he’s a polarizing figure.
But this isn’t the first time the poster boy for African American “ex-gay” ministries has had to confront his closeted past and homophobic presence.
It happened here in Boston in July 2010. But Boston did not dis-invite him.
Every year Mayor Tom Menino’s Office of Arts, Tourism and Special Events puts on its annual Boston GospelFest at City Hall Plaza. And because the Gospelfest is a public and taxpayer-funded community event, it’s open to all—even the African American LGBTQ communities.
But when Pastor Donnie McClurkin was billed as the main event, many in the African American LGBTQ communities were not in attendance at the event. And neither was the mayor.
“I learned yesterday—through the ‘Phoenix’ article regarding the City of Boston Gospel Fest— of the depth and breath of Donnie McClurkin’s views on the gay community,” Burns wrote in an email to me. Ms. Julie Burns was then the Director of Arts, Tourism and Special Events for the Mayor’s Office.
“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 ‘hate speech’ of any kind.”
Menino has the trust and respect among both African American and LGBTQ communities. However, when it comes to moving Boston’s black ministers on LGBTQ civil rights, Menino’s struggle has been and is like that of other elected officials and queer activists— immovable. His absence from that year’s Gospelfest was another sad example of how Boston’s black ministers, an influential and powerful political voting bloc of the mayor’s, would rather compromise their decades-long friendship with City Hall than denounce McClurkin’s appearance.
When Burns called me about the McClurkin kerfuffle with Gospelfest, asking for my help, I supplied Burns with a list of ten top tier singers of Rev. Donnie McClurkin’s caliber. In an email to Burns I wrote stating “there is no top singing African American gospel singer who’s publicly an ally to LBTQ communities. While many of the singers are LGBTQ— because black gospel music is the expression of a ‘black gay male gospel aesthetic’— very few are as public about their denunciation of the LGBTQ community as ‘ex-gay’ Rev. Donnie McClurkin.”
“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 McClurkin’s homophobic remarks stated at the Church of God in Christ’s (COGIC) 102nd Holy Convocation International Youth Department Worship Service in November 2009.
The Church of God in Christ (COGIC) is the largest African American and largest Pentecostal church in the United States. And as the largest denominational black church in the country it is also the loudest in rebuking homosexuality. With many of the gospel music industry mega-stars from COGIC, like McClurkin, these black gay male mega-stars are always forced to go back into the closet denouncing publicly their sexual orientation at the church’s annual convocation.
McClurkin attributed his homosexuality to being raped as a child, first at age eight at his brother’s funeral by his uncle, and then at age thirteen by his cousin, his uncle’s son.
In a recent appearance on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” with Roland Martin to discuss his forced withdrawal to sing at the March, McClurkin retold his “ex-gay” testimony as reasons why he’s neither homophobic nor homosexual.
“You can’t call me a homophobic if I’ve been a homosexual…. My thing was from the time I was eight years old and raped three times by my uncle in one night, a prepubescent boy who doesn’t have any barriers or bustles; this was something that was instilled in me… And this started a pathology…. But my conviction biblically, and spiritually, let me know that this was not for me. This was not the lifestyle for me. And consequently, through a series of prayer, people are like praying the gay away, it wasn’t praying the gay away, it was finding out who I really am.”
Confusing same-gender sexual violence as homosexuality, McClurkin misinterpreted the molestation as the reason for his gay sexual orientation. McClurkin “testi-lies” that his cure was done by a deliverance from God and a restoration of his manhood by becoming the biological father of a child.
Many conservative African American clerics and congregations at the March were ill at ease with LGBTQ Americans also claiming MLK’s dream. McClurkin could have brokered that divide.
But perhaps McClurkin doesn’t get it that as long as he stays in the closet he’s a polarizing figure of an old school paradigm that worked at the March of 1963 but not in the March of 2013.