by Mike Dorning, and updated
A Gospel concert tour that the Barack Obama campaign has organized for this weekend is stirring controversy among some gay activists.
Grammy Award-winning gospel artist Donnie McClurkin, who has offended gay rights groups by promoting the view that homosexuality is a choice and that gays can be "cured," is among several gospel singers scheduled to campaign on behalf of Obama in South Carolina. McClurkin is one of the singers featured in the tour's finale on Sunday.
McClurkin, who is also a Pentecostal minister, has said he struggled with homosexual "demons" for 20 years--which he attributes to molestation as a child by male relatives--but is now straight.
McClurkin's involvement in the tour has stirred a flurry of heated commentary on the web from gay activists and liberal bloggers.
Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said Monday evening that the campaign has no plans to drop McClurkin from the concert series, though Obama did issue a written statement late Monday distancing himself from McClurkin's views on homosexuality.
“I have clearly stated my belief that gays and lesbians are our brothers and sisters and should be provided the respect, dignity, and rights of all other citizens. I have consistently spoken directly to African-American religious leaders about the need to overcome the homophobia that persists in some parts our community so that we can confront issues like HIV/AIDS and broaden the reach of equal rights in this country," Obama said in the written statement.
"I strongly believe that African Americans and the LGBT community must stand together in the fight for equal rights. And so I strongly disagree with Reverend McClurkin’s views and will continue to fight for these rights as President of the United States to ensure that America is a country that spreads tolerance instead of division," the statement added.
(Tribune file photo)
The Huffington Post's Earl Ofari Hutchinson helped stoke the controversy on the web with a post that argues featuring McClurkin in a campaign-backed concert series amounts to an "ala Bush pander to anti-gay mania" that he calls "shameless and reprehensible."
Ameriblog's John Aravosis lambasted Obama: "Yes, sucking up to anti-gay bigots and joining them on stage - no, giving them a stage - is certainly defying conventional wisdom as to how a Democrat becomes president."
Open Left's Matt Stoller accused Obama of "hanging out with ex-gays crusading against the 'curse of homosexuality', further cementing his strong record of giving no one any reason to vote for him."
The gay-oriented blog Towleroad also has taken up the controversy, saying it "surely looks to be a huge misstep in terms of his LGBT support."
The Gospel music tour through South Carolina culminates a "Forty Days of Faith and Family" initiative in which the Obama campaign has highlighted the role of faith in the candidate's politics. African-American church-goers are an important voting segment in the state's Democratic primary, a crucial early contest in the presidential campaign.
One gay activist involved with the Obama campaign said the situation puts the candidate in a bind, since he risks offending evangelicals in South Carolina if he cancels McClurkin's appearance but could alienate gay supporters if the performance proceeds as planned.
“This story is quickly turning into a disaster for Barack,” said the supporter who is active on gay and lesbian issues. “He’s screwed if he goes through with the trip with Donnie McClurkin….But he's also screwed in South Carolina if he dumps McClurkin. I hope that the staffer who set this up has already been fired.”