Barack Obama trails Hillary Clinton among black voters but the entertainment planned for his upcoming African American gospel outreach project has another key liberal constituency — gays, lesbians and transgenders — outraged.
Obama has announced that he will include an openly gay minister in this weekend's event, but gay rights groups are still steaming about the inclusion of Donnie McClurkin in the "Embrace the Change" concert tour.
"Your willingness to share a stage with Rev. Donnie McClurkin is alarming and, frankly, deeply disappointing. Rev. McClurkin has consistently disparaged gay men and lesbians, spread half-truths and unproven theories about our lives and has shown a willingness to work with those who would use the rights of gay Americans as a wedge issue to divide black families for their own cynical political objectives," wrote NBJC Chief Executive Officer H. Alexander Robinson.
"The fact that Rev. McClurkin uses his religious beliefs to justify bigotry and discrimination is so damaging that it cannot be addressed with a simple media statement no matter how heartfelt or sincere," Robinson continued.
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solomonese also called on Obama "to facilitate face-to-face meetings with religious leaders, like Rev. McClurkin, and the GLBT community to confront the issue of homophobia.”
"There is no gospel in Donnie McClurkin’s message for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. That’s a message that certainly doesn’t belong on any presidential candidate’s stage,” Solomonese said.
McClurkin said he is not on a crusade to cure gays but welcomes anyone to his ministry who seeks to change their gay lifestyle.
Also booked to perform on Obama's gospel concert tour is "Mary Mary," a sister duet, one of whom said of homosexuality: "I feel how God feels about it ... but I still love them. ... I don't agree with the lifestyle, but I love them. They have issues and need somebody to encourage them like everybody else — just like the murderer, just like the one full of pride, just like the prostitute; everybody needs God."
Despite pressure on Obama from left-wing Web logs and gay advocacy groups to remove the controversial performers from the program, he has not done so; however, he issued a statement distancing himself from the reverend's views.
"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. 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," he said.
Obama repeatedly has spoken out against homophobia in the black community and on several occasions to large church congregations. But that's not good enough for the NBJC and other gay groups that accuse anti-gay black religious leaders of spreading hate.
A Winthrop poll of African Americans in South Carolina shows that upwards of 70 percent have a negative opinion of homosexuality. But politics also is in play. The NBJC was founded by the well-known black, gay Clinton administration official, Keith Boykin.
He was the first openly gay official in any White House and coordinated the first public meeting between a president and leaders of the gay community.
On his blog, Boykin, who was a classmate of Obama's at Harvard law school, said he is not involved in the controversy but summed up the Obama campaign's dilemma.
"If they disinvite McClurkin, they run the risk of offending black voters who are inspired by McClurkin's message and don't know or don't care about the gay controversy. If they go ahead with McClurkin, they run the risk of alienating gay voters who have supported and contributed to their campaign since the beginning," he wrote.
Clinton has her own issues, which highlight the tightrope Democrats have to walk between liberals and the largely socially conservative African Americans needed to win the Democratic nomination and the White House.
Earlier this year, the New York senator's campaign crowed about her support from the Rev. Harold Mayberry on issues about crime and education. Mayberry is the pastor of the First African Methodist Church in Oakland, where he has preached against homosexuality to a congregation of 2,800. He has compared gays to thieves.
In an odd twist, McClurkin has performed at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, though he calls himself a Democrat and says he supports Obama because he is the best chance for change.