Every few years, ex-gay mega-church superstar Donnie McClurkin manages to say something crazy which has all the gays up in arms. Why can’t we in the black gay community get as mad about the institutional homophobia that impacts LGBT youth as we do about McClurkin’s recurring outbursts?
McClurkin’s most recent rant on the ‘evils’ of gay sex and non-normative gender identity came earlier this month, when he preached at a Church of God In Christ (COGIC) youth convention meeting in Memphis. He was apparently worked into a frenzy by all of the “effeminate men, effeminate boys everywhere [he goes]” and also terrified by the “evil young hard butch girls” in the audience. He felt the need to preach to them for nearly 30 minutes of what I am sure was already a dizzyingly lengthy service about the need for the gay and lesbian children in the church to repent of for their sins, and accept Jesus Christ into their life which, by his definition, means rebuking their non-hetero desires.
I think McClurkin’s actions in this case are totally disgusting. In the video of his outburst, he is not merely quoting Leviticus or the Sodom and Gomorrah story. This shrill rant became a shaming, a quasi witch hunt, where he demanded, screaming and speaking in tongues in moments, that the gay and lesbian youth went up to the altar in front of hundreds of people, to have “hands laid upon them.” This would sound like the punchline of a bad joke if it weren’t true.
But the truth is, what do we expect? McClurkin has been telling his story for more than a decade. He was raped twice by family members as a child, which apparently led to him having sex with men, a fate from which he says he was ultimately saved twenty years after the original incident. Painful and disgraceful as it is that that happened to anyone, McClurkin has used this not as a way to work to end child sexual abuse, but to intentionally conflate consensual sex between adults with deep psychic trauma, from which we can, or should want to, be delivered. He’s written a book and made a documentary about about it, made a documentary about his life, and sang at the 2004 Republican National Convention.
We know that is the message which much of the COGIC denomination teaches, despite the much reported hypocrisy by many of its prominent leaders. And while I feel bad for the youth who are forced to hear that message every Sunday by parents who are forcing them to sit through it, we also know that many LGBT Christians choose to sit in those churches for one reason or another, knowing the mean-spiritedness of those speeches full well. They make him important, and so do we.
We keep giving him column inches, which only fuels his importance within the Christian evangelical world. Yet, I have not written a word about Jason, Jaysen Mattison, the young black gay teen found raped, murdered and stuffed in a closet allegedly by a “family friend” in Baltimore around the time of the McClurkin speech. Why are we more outraged by McClurkin than organizing to end the violence which those words help make a daily reality for so many of us in the LGBT community?
It’s not that I think McClurkin is a joke and shouldn’t be taken seriously, or that what he says doesn’t have real-life consequences. I know that the McClurkins of the world, and the families that are listening, are completely implicated in the thirty to forty percent of homeless youth – many of whom are made homeless by parents who kick them out and most of whom are black – who identify as LGBT. We know that black gay youth who come from supportive and affirming families and communities are less likely to contract HIV.
We know that due to employment discrimination, twenty five percent of LGBT youth do not have health insurance, and yet many LGBT organizations were slow to move on advocating for health care reform. It’s like the NAACP holding a symbolic funeral for the N word, but doing nothing for the prison system, AIDS, or many other problems which ensure that black people of whatever persuasion are still treated like the N word.
In the end, self-hating homophobes like McClurkin will be around for a long time. And he will sell snake oil promises in the guise of redemption as long as there are fools who will buy it. But his words would have a lot less power if we organized around the conditions that drive the disparities that black LGBT youth face.