It's a real shame when good artists have bad politics. Salvador Dali and Frank Miller are two brilliant, but horribly right-wing artists that come to mind. Another good artist with bad politics is Donnie McClurkin, whose music is quite good (in my view), but who is also an anti-gay bigot, who has said some hateful things about homosexuality and who also claims to be "ex-gay."
McClurkin's artistic talent makes Presidential candidate Barack Obama's decision to put him on his Embrace the Change tour understandable. McClurkin would be a draw for black voters, many of whom are religious, and if Obama wanted to attract votes, having McClurkin around would be a good idea.
But after discovering that McClurkin was going to be on the tour, gay rights groups and the queer blogosphere started clucking like a barn full of angry hens. Mind you, Obama never endorsed McClurkin’s theology nor did he say anything showing any ideological agreement whatsoever with McClurkin (though he did point out that many black ministers agree with McClurkin). Obama's mere association with McClurkin was unacceptable and drew down the fury of queer people.
Then, when Obama announced that he would not ax McClurkin from the tour--thus defying the decrees of gay lobbyist groups (whom thou shalt not disobey!)--the clucking got even louder. Now there is a bunch of hyperbolic talk about how this flap might sink Obama's campaign.
Why am I so sardonic about this? Because the response to Obama is just too tainted by politics that prioritize the needs of white, upper-middle class gay men for me to jump on the "Bash Obama" bandwagon. It is marked by a discourse that says that it is acceptable to endorse candidates and legislation that may adversely effect certain communities (e.g. trans people, minorities, immigrants) for the sake of "bringing people to the table," "incremental progress," or whatever other cliche you like, but which holds that it is always unacceptable to adversely affect white upper-middle class gay men for any reason.
This isn't to say that I don't understand the reaction; after all we should expect a candidate with professed support for gay rights to be consistent in their associations. What sticks out to me is that queer bloggers and gay rights groups feel so offended that Obama merely associated with an anti-gay person--as if mainstream gay politics represented some paragon of inclusiveness. As if the single-issue tunnel vision that plagues gay politics didn't exclude a whole host of people and groups. It is a classic case of, "Get the beam out of your own eye before you worry about the needle in someone else's."
Take John Aravosis' huffing and puffing, for instance. He was so ticked off that he was selling joke T-shirts on his website protesting Obama's decision to keep McClurkin on the tour! It is hard to believe that this is the same Aravosis who defended the exclusion of trans people from ENDA for the "greater good" of passing civil rights protections for just gays and lesbians.
My question is, if it's acceptable for trans people to be excluded for some "greater good", why can't Obama appeal to black voters by using a very popular gospel singer--albeit one who is anti-gay? Obama's goal is to get black votes; McClurkin is a big draw for black voters. It's a no-brainer.
Don't tell me Aravosis is upset because someone might be throwing gay people under the bus for another goal! Don't tell me that he's miffed because someone might prioritize something else like, say, getting votes, over the political aspirations of white gay men, who after, all are way too important to be sacrificed for anything.
No, no, no Obama has it all backwards! Excluding trans people for those uncomfortable with alternative gender expressions is what's okay. But doing something that might negatively affect white gay men? That's an outrage!
The most telling response comes from the misnamed "Human Rights" Campaign. The same organization that endorsed Bush-buddy and warmonger Joseph Lieberman (so much for "human rights!") and supported a trans-exclusive ENDA had the gall to open their traps about McClurkin. The same questions I posed to Aravosis apply ten-fold to the "HR"C. How can you be pissed off at a man who associates with an anti-gay bigot when you support warmongers and endorse legislation that excludes part of our community? Endorsing a man who supports a war that has killed thousands? That's okay. Associating with a man who has made disparaging remarks about gay people? Now that's an outrage.
And while we're on the issue of presidential candidates and their relationships to bad politics, let's not forget the kid-gloves with which Rudolph Giuliani was treated by the gay media--that is, until he started saying things that might negatively affect white, upper-middle class gay men in his attempt to appeal to socially conservative voters. The gay media fawned over his liberal views on gay rights, but ignored the way that many blacks and minorities view Giuliani, or the regime of police brutality and gentrification that occurred during his mayorship. These are issues that are important to minorities, but they can be cast aside by mainstream gay politics because he's liberal on gay rights.
I don't mean to counterpoise war, race and sexuality. McClurkin is actually an anti-gay bigot and Obama's decision to associate with him is a serious problem. Both the war and homophobia are serious issues. My intention is to point out how the discussion of the Obama-McClurkin affair is affected by the problems of mainstream gay politics. The demands that many gay rights groups and supporters are putting on Obama are demands that they themselves flout when it comes to other marginalized groups (e.g. Aravosis with trans people, the HRC with trans people and Iraqis).
The discussion reflects a sense of entitlement that expects everyone else to bend over backwards to put gay and lesbian people at the forefront of their coalition building regardless of what reasons they have for de-prioritizing gay rights, but that insists on the right to build coalitions around gay rights only. Other people aren't allowed to build broad coalitions if that means de-prioritizing gay rights but if other issues (even trans issues!) need to be de-prioritized for the sake of gay rights, well that's fine.