Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign has stirred great discontent within the LGBT community by giving a forum to an award-winning gospel singer and minister known for his antigay rhetoric. The series of gaffes has continued to echo within that community, though the mainstream press has been slow to report or understand its significance.
The growing firestorm kicked off Oct. 20 when Earl Ofari Hutchinson wrote online in The Huffington Post, 'Barack Obama ripped a page straight from the Bush campaign playbook with his announced upcoming three date barnstorm tour through South Carolina with notorious gay basher, gospel singer Donnie McClurkin.
'McClurkin [ is ] black, he's popular, and gospel plays big with blacks in South Carolina, especially among evangelical, and many of them openly and even more of the quietly loathe gays.'
The candidate and the singer reportedly met at a September fundraiser for Obama hosted by Oprah Winfrey at her California mansion.
H. Alexander Robinson, CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition ( NBJC ) , said on October 23, 'For Sen. Obama to align himself with publicly antigay individuals is both hurtful and disappointing. Rev. Donnie McClurkin once stated that he was at 'war' with the LGBT community, stating, 'The gloves are off and if there's going to be a war, there's going to be a war…I'm not in the mood to play with those who are trying to kill our children.''
The coalition was one of many groups within the gay community who called upon Obama to distance themselves from the antigay rhetoric.
The campaign issued a statement from Obama saying, '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 Rev. 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 singer remained on the program.
The campaign posted the statement on the GLBT segment of the website, but not among the general news releases.
The response prompted blogger John Aravosis to write on Americablog.com, 'That's nice Senator. You strongly disagree with the bigot who thinks I need to be cured, and who has declared 'war' on me and my people, but you're going to put the guy on stage with you anyway in order to make a few bucks. Nice. I wonder what Obama would say if Hillary invited [ Nazi/racist ] David Duke to speak at an event but then said, not to worry, she really loves black people—kisses!'
The Human Rights Campaign was more diplomatic, but not mollified. It expressed appreciation of the gesture by the campaign, but also disappointment that it had not done more. President Joe Solmonese said, 'There is no gospel in Donnie McClurkin's message for gay [ s ] . That's a message that certainly doesn't belong on any presidential candidate's stage.'
The Obama campaign belatedly tried to 'balance' the situation by adding an openly gay minister to the program. Rev. Andy Sidden is pastor of Garden of Grace United Church of Christ, in Columbia, S.C. It is a former parish of the Metropolitan Community Church. The campaign rejected possible Black ministers recommended by the NCBJ.
That created a new set of problems—Sidden is white. Pam Spaulding, writing on her blog pamshouseblend.com, said, 'It boggles the mind that the Obama campaign would select a white pastor to deal with a situation that is awash in black homophobia. Politics 101…Barack Obama is clearly showing he doesn't understand the need of the religious black community to see one of their own deliver that message.'
'The last thing a crowd of black folks who have a problem with homosexuality needs is: 1 ) to be 'told' by the Obama campaign that a message about tolerance must be delivered from a white voice of faith, and 2 ) to have their beliefs confirmed that being gay is 'a white man's perversion.' Coming from a white pastor under these circumstances, can only be seen as paternalistic and patronizing; the shields of defensiveness will go up, the message will be ignored.'
The campaign's born-again 25-year-old director of religious affairs, Joshua DuBois, held an Oct. 25 conference call with leaders of the South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement to try to defuse the situation. It didn't work; 15-20 members ended up staging a vigil outside the event on Sunday night.
Rather than let the matter die down, McClurkin stoked the flames further in the closing segment of the concert. 'Don't call me a bigot or antigay when I have suffered the same feelings' he told the audience. 'God delivered me from homosexuality. God is the only way.'
As John Aravosis wrote the next morning, 'In the end, Obama let his 'best' and 'favorite' artist slam gays to thousands of African Americans, in his name, and neither he nor his hand-chosen white gay preacher said anything in response.'
Chicago political consultant Michael Bauer, who has personal ties to Obama, was appalled by the ineptitude of the campaign staff. He said a principal responsibility of the staff is to make sure that such mistakes do not happen and draw the candidate and media off the message of the day.
But there have been repeated incidents of such gaffes with the gay community and with a broader audience, such as earlier this year in making a weak response to then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace's characterization of gays as 'immoral.'
He blames it on the staff more than the candidate, but acknowledges that Obama must shoulder the ultimate responsibility. Bauer's principal questions are who is going to be held accountable and who is going to be fired for the political ineptitude.
Bauer made the comparison with George Bush and the President's loyalty to people like Alberto Gonzalez and Donald Rumsfeld who were kept on despite continued screw-ups. 'Barack is supposed to be different,' said Bauer, 'but nobody is getting fired, nobody is being held accountable.'
Academician Ken Sherrill said, 'Obama may have been caught by surprise with expressions of outrage came from LGBT leaders. The critical point, I fear, is that he didn't know to handle the dispute. For better or worse, he didn't triangulate and he didn't mediate. He didn't show those qualities of leadership and he didn't show decisiveness.'
'Obama's campaign promised to break with the politics of the past, but his behavior in this case is a classic example of the politics of the past,' Sherrill said. 'I think it's an example of the not-ready-for-prime-time aspect of Obama's candidacy.'
The latest Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll shows that Obama 'has lost strength in such groups as those with higher education and the affluent, which were the mainstays of his candidacy.' This latest misstep is not going to help.