Pastor Donnie McClurkin’s struggle with sexuality mirrors the Black Church

Pastor Donnie McClurkin holding a microphone
Pastor Donnie McClurkin

Pastor McClurkin’s homophobic past came back to haunt him

The most significant factor that keeps the Black Church on the down-low are closeted, homophobic ministers. Pastor Donnie McClurkin, a three-time Gospel Grammy winner and the former poster boy for African American ex-gay ministries, is one example.  In a recent episode of TV One’s Uncensored, McClurkin talked about his sexual past.

“I didn’t know really what a woman wanted,” McClurkin said on Uncensored. “I’ve messed up more than I’ve had good. My past relationships were a sprinkling of everything—men and women.”

McClurkin’s sexuality has been an open secret. However, now at 61, McClurkin’s lamenting about growing old and being alone because of his sexuality. While the Black LGBTQ community would applaud someone of McClurkin’s status telling the truth about his sexual past, many of us can’t pretend to care because of decades of damning and damaging messages he hurled at us.

At the 2009 Convocation, McClurkin espoused his ex-gay rhetoric. He castigated former talented gospel industry worker Tonéx (B. Slade), who unapologetically stated that he “didn’t struggle with his sexual attraction to men. According to McClurkin, however, black males, like Tonéx, are gay because of sexual molestation, an absentee father, or they didn’t have strong male images around them. McClurkin attributed his homosexuality to being raped twice as a child—first at age eight at his brother’s funeral by his uncle, and then at age thirteen by his cousin, his uncle’s son.

“You can’t call me a homophobic if I’ve been a homosexual… My thing was from [being] raped. And this started a pathology,” McClurkin stated on The Tom Joyner Morning Show in 2013.

Pastor McClurkin has Confused same-gender sexual violence with homosexuality

Confusing, however, same-gender sexual violence with homosexuality, McClurkin misinterpreted the molestation as the reason for his gay sexual orientation. McClurkin “testi-lies” that his cure was done by deliverance from God and a restoration of his manhood by becoming the biological father of a child.

However, in 2010, Pastor McClurkin’s homophobic past came back to haunt him.  McClurkin was billed as the main event in the 2010 Boston Gospelfest, and many African American LGBTQ communities were not in attendance at the event. Neither was the mayor. Every year then-Mayor Tom Menino’s Office of Arts, Tourism, and Special Events put on its annual Boston GospelFest at City Hall Plaza. Because the Gospelfest was a public and taxpayer-funded community event, it was open to all—even the African American LGBTQ communities.

“I learned yesterday—through the Phoenix article regarding the City of Boston GospelFest— of the depth and breath of Donnie McClurkin’s views on the gay community,” Burns wrote to me in an email. Julie Burns was the Director of Arts, Tourism and Special Events for the Mayor’s Office back then.

“I am embarrassed to say that I was not aware of this,” said Burns. “And we obviously should have vetted him further. GospelFest is in its 10th year and is arguably the largest gospel event in New England. Minister McClurkin was recommended to us by a number of people, and we were swayed by his artistic honors. Of course, this does not excuse the situation that we now find ourselves in! Please rest assured that Mayor Menino did not know anything about this and would never condone ‘hate speech’ of any kind.”

Menino had the trust and respect among both African American and LGBTQ communities.  However, when it came to moving Boston’s black ministers on LGBTQ civil rights, Menino’s struggle had been and was like that of other elected officials and queer activists—immovable. His absence from that year’s Gospelfest was another example of how Boston’s black ministers—an influential and powerful political voting bloc of the mayor’s-would rather compromise their decades-long friendship with City Hall than denounce McClurkin’s appearance.

In 2013, McClurkin was scheduled to be one of the singers at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial during the Reflections on Peace: From Gandhi to King event. But D.C.’s mayor responding to LGBTQ activists’ outcry of McClurkin’s appearance withdrew the invitation.

On Uncensored, McClurkin doesn’t come out with a full-throated statement about being gay or bisexual. Instead, he speaks about his sexuality in terms of marriage. “Honestly, the only thing in my life that is missing is marriage. The only thing that is missing in my life that can cause real family is marriage.”

While McClurkin refers to heterosexual weddings, he does, however,  know about same-sex marriage because he was an opponent of the marriage equality movement.

In 2021, I am still asking these three questions:

  • Why can’t we as an African American community tell the truth about our sexuality?
  • What price do we pay in telling the truth?
  • And what role does the church play in perpetuating not only unsafe sexual behavior but also demonizing its members of the LGBTQ community?

My answer: Ministers like McClurkin.

McClurkin admitted he still has sexual urges to be with men but won’t act on them. He compares his gay desires to diabetes: “I don’t eat sugar, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t want sugar.”