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 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 10-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.
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 13 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.
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 Martin Luther King’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.
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Huffington Post blogger and freelance journalist.