Donnie McClurkin, the Grammy award winning gospel singer and minister, was asked not to perform at the concert commemorating the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, led by civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. The controversy is over McClurkin’s public stance as an “ex-gay,” crediting God and “the blood of Jesus” with saving him from the “perversion” of homosexuality.
In a video response to his being asked not to perform, McClurkin said that the move on the part of the DC Arts Commission and the Mayor’s office to remove him from the event was an act of bullying, a discriminatory act that showed the intolerance of the commission, as well as an infringement on his right to free speech.
“It’s sad today that a black artist is uninvited from a civil rights movement depicting the love, the unity, the peace, the tolerance [of the march],” McClurkin said on the video.
However, despite speaking for seven minutes about his dismissal from the concert, McClurkin managed to never once address the reason why gay activists would take offense to his participation in the event.
The documentary The Donnie McCLurkin story—From Darkness to Light, describes McClurkin’s “rise” from the “perversion” of homosexuality to the fulfillment of his heart’s desire to be a “real man” and convert to heterosexuality.
The narrative of the documentary is full of the same Christian anti-gay propaganda that typifies the church’s stance on homosexuality today, claiming that McClurkin turned gay because he was molested as a child and was a miserable gay adult with a “broken life” because of his homosexuality. He finds God, and finds heterosexuality, and all of his problems fade away in a golden light of Christian goodness and Christian manhood.
These same ideas—homosexuals are “broken,” and embody “wrong” masculinity—are used to discriminate against gays and imply that there is something “wrong” with queers that can be “fixed” through Christian teaching.
McClurkin claims that he has “no problem” with homosexuals who “enjoy that lifestyle.” However, spreading the vitriol of Christian right wing propaganda is no benign act. The irony of McClurkin’s claim that excluding him from the concert to celebrate the March is “intolerant” is that his own message, which he insists isn’t homophobic, is clearly anti-gay. How in the world is claiming that gay men are “broken” not homophobic?
The problem with McClurkin’s rhetoric is that he does not acknowledge the inherent violence in calling homosexuality a “perversion” that he has been “cured” from. This supports the Christian narrative that paints homosexuals as “sinners” who need to be “saved” from their lives of “sin.” You cannot possibly hold respect for people that you see as sinners and perverts who need saving.
Beyond McClurkin’s obvious attempt to paint his homophobia as “peaceful” and “benign,” his presence, which supports the Christian anti-gay propaganda, would be an insult to the memory of one of the key organizers of the historic march, Bayard Rustin.
Bayard Rustin was an openly gay man and key adviser to Martin Luther King Jr, and was just awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. In the 1960s, he faced criminal charges because of his homosexuality, and was called a “pervert” and an “immoral influence” by his detractors.
In “From Montgomery to Stonewall”, Bayard Rustin made the connection between the Civil Rights Movement and the Gay Rights Movement:
“They began to fight for the right to live in dignity, the right essentially to be one’s self in every respect, and the right to be protected under law. In other words, people began to fight for their human rights. Gay people must continue this protest.”
If McClurkin wants to be part of the peaceful movement towards inclusion and respect for all human beings, he can start by acknowledging the inherent homophobia in statements he has made, and work towards supporting gays instead.