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February 29, 2008

Obama denounces Farrakhan

Issue recalls flap over anti-gay singer McClurkin

Cleveland--The February 26 Cleveland State University debate between Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton brought up an incident of importance to LGBT voters.

In the final segment, moderator Tim Russert of NBC asked Obama if he accepts the support of Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan.

Farrakhan spent two hours praising Obama last Sunday during his keynote address at the Nation of Islam annual Saviours’ Day Celebration in Chicago.

Farrakhan compared him to the religion’s founder, Fard Muhammad, who also had a white mother and black father.

Though mostly known now for organizing the 1995 Million Man March and promoting tolerance among religions, Farrakhan is a lightning rod, particularly for his earlier anti-Semitic rants and anti-gay statements.

Obama and his spokespeople have maintained that the candidate has not solicited Farrakhan’s endorsement or help.

Pressed by both Russert and Clinton, on the semantic differences between “rejecting” and “denouncing” Farrakhan, Obama defended his commitment to the Jewish community and said that he both “rejected” and “denounced” Farrakhan’s remarks and anything that might look like an endorsement.

Obama, however, has not unequivocally denounced “ex-gay” gospel singer Donnie McClurkin, who the campaign brought in to perform at “Embrace the Change” concerts last October.

McClurkin claims to be fighting a “war” against “the curse of homosexuality.” At the Columbia, S.C., concert, he told the crowd, “I don’t speak against the homosexuals. I tell you that God delivered me from homosexuality.”

After being criticized for having McClurkin speak, Obama released an open letter to the LGBT community in November saying, “McClurkin is a talented performer and a beloved figure among many African Americans and Christians around the country. At the same time, he espouses beliefs about homosexuality that I completely reject.”

Obama said, “These events have provided an important opportunity for us to confront a difficult fact: There are good, decent, moral people in this country who do not yet embrace their gay brothers and sisters as full members of our shared community.”

Following the debate, three high ranking Obama campaign officials, Ohio communications director Ben Labolt, strategist David Axelrod, and national communications director Robert Gibbs, were asked about the difference between Farrakhan and McClurkin.

All three pointed to Obama’s Martin Luther King Day speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where he called on black Americans to work against homophobia.

“For most of this country’s history, we in the African-American community have been at the receiving end of man’s inhumanity to man,” Obama said. “And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean. We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them.”

“That’s the answer. That’s all,” said Labolt, walking away.

Axelrod insisted that the question mischaracterized the events.

“Obama has been highly critical of McClurkin,” Axelrod said.

“I believe that Senator Obama spoke out against the hateful views of both Donnie McClurkin and Louis Farrakhan,” Gibbs said.



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