The Washington Post

In ‘Oppression Olympics,’ no one wins

Let’s be honest. The Rev. Donnie McClurkin, a gospel artist, shouldn’t have been invited to headline last weekend’s “Reflections on Peace: From Gandhi to King” concert in the first place.

After all, the event, which kicked off two weeks of celebrations commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, sought to honor the legacy of two great civil rights heroes, promote peace and harmony, and reflect on their message that injustice anywhere is indeed a threat to justice everywhere.

McClurkin — who has a long history of preaching divisive messages about gay people, and a rather short history standing on the side of social justice issues — was a peculiar choice for top billing at a peace concert, given his polarizing anti-gay stance and slim advocacy record.

Most unfortunate is that McClurkin isn’t just a lone ranger standing on a soapbox outside the Metro — he is one of several clergy members who use their popularity and pulpit to shame and blame, rather than preach the peace and acceptance that the namesakes of the concert stood for, and died protecting. His values were clearly a misfit for this event.

Nonetheless, the brouhaha that has ensued since D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) unceremoniously rescinded McClurkin’s invitation on the eve of his scheduled performance, has taken on a dangerous undertone of what we call the “Oppression Olympics.”

As hazardous messages of repudiation lose their mainstream appeal, some who once proselytized anti-gay rhetoric to great fanfare, are now claiming to be the victims of “civil rights infringement” and “bullying” by those who disagree.

To be clear, one form of oppression does not trump another; anti-gay policies and laws are just as stifling as systemically racist ones. Pitting one against the other and volleying for the title of the most oppressed group uplifts no one, but instead relegates all of us to second-class citizenship. This friction is the antithesis of what we are celebrating this month.

The legacies of Dr. King and Gandhi are steeped in love, acceptance and justice.  How does demonizing LGBT youth, comparing them to “vampires” in a 2009 sermon bring people together?  Anti-equality naysayers like McClurkin, just don’t fit the bill. 

.LGBT youths of color are among the most vulnerable and invisible among us. Too many of our young people have had their self-esteem shattered by these “teachings” and believe that they are unworthy of love, and even life, as a result. They are the true victims of bullying.

These youths have no pulpit or captive audience. Their grievances and misgivings fall on deaf ears, and in some districts, school boards have worked to create policies that silence their existence. That is true civil rights infringement.

King and Gandhi fought for those who had been silenced by systemic oppression, bigotry and hate. They advocated for societies where people would be judged solely by the content of their character, not by their skin, caste or whom they love. Their movements and marches were predicated on the idea that each of us — beautiful and unique in the eyes of God — have inherent value, worthy of equality and justice.

As black lesbians who actively campaigned for the right to get married at home, here in the District, we know firsthand what it feels like to have to literally petition the government, testify before the City Council, and have your basic humanity picked apart, poked and prodded in a quest to attain the same rights as your neighbors under the law.

Being gay did not opt us out of the experiences of all black people or the ongoing movement for racial justice in America. Quite the contrary. Yet some basic civil rights, like non-discrimination protections, still elude us in most states in this country, simply because we are gay.

Clergy certainly have the freedom to preach, teach and practice whatever beliefs and religious rites they choose. And if marriage equality and LGBT rights in general are not among them, that’s their prerogative.

The law ordains civil rights and God ordains religious rites. The two can and should co-exist, though one should not usurp the other. This is why we have separation of church and state.

While we commend McClurkin for stating that he now believes this as well, we fear that the damage caused by his ex-gay ministry, and that of others, won’t easily be undone. We cannot ignore the pain and devastation that lingers long after the anti-gay sermon ends, and it will take more than political correctness to heal the wounds.

Bias and discrimination cloaked as religious freedom, or called by any other name, are still bias and discrimination. Period.

Aisha Moodie-Mills is a senior fellow and director of the FIRE Initiative at the Center for American Progress. Danielle Moodie-Mills is an adviser with FIRE and editor in chief of the lifestyle blog threeLOL. The couple also co-host Politini, a weekly radio show on Follow them on Twitter @threeLOL.



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