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Ray faces gay backlash after taking minister's endorsement in D.C. race

Clark Ray and the Rev. Willie Wilson

UPDATED, 1:30 P.M.

It was a classic strange-bedfellows moment: Earlier this week, Clark Ray stood at the Benning Road Denny's with the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, accepting the minister's endorsement of his Democratic primary run for an at-large council seat.

It's no secret why Ray would want the endorsement. A former mayoral candidate, Wilson cuts no small swath in Ward 8 and other parts of the city where Ray, as an openly gay white man, might not get much consideration. From his pulpit at Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia, Wilson commands the attention of hundreds, if not thousands of voters.

Here's the rub: On occasion, Wilson has turned that attention to controversial topics -- such as in 2005, when he said, "Lesbianism is about to take over our community. I'm talking about young girls." He proceeded to engage in, well, rawer discourse about gay sex. One of the more family-friendly portions: "Can't make no connection with a screw and another screw."

That incident set off no small brouhaha in the gay community, with activists, politicians, and others lining up to denounce Wilson's commentary.

Ray courted early support for his campaign in the gay activist community, hoping to split what had been a solid base of support for incumbent Phil Mendelson by selling the prospect of electing a third gay council member. (Shirts worn by his supporters at Saturday's Capital Pride parade read "another seat at the table.")

But after the Wilson endorsement, early supporters are now skeptical.

Jack Jacobson, a Dupont Circle advisory neighborhood commissioner, says he has "grave concerns, and I've talked to Clark about that." Lane Hudson, a Ray supporter active in gay politics, says Ray needs to have Wilson "make it clear that he supports full equality" in a written statement. "If he can't do that, then it's valid to question why he would accept the endorsement," Hudson says. And Darrin Glymph, a prominent gay attorney supporting Ray, declined to comment. "I don't know Willie Wilson as well as I should."

Add that skepticism to the open hostility expressed by members of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Association -- some leaders of which are supporting Mendelson.

In interviews Thursday, Ray and Wilson described a relationship of mutual respect built during Ray's time as city parks and recreation center. Initially, Wilson expressed concerns about cutbacks to a recreation center in Ward 7, and Ray worked to address them, as well as to create and enhance programs for youth and seniors. Ray and Wilson have continued to meet regularly, and Ray says he often attends services at Union Temple.

Wilson says that Ray is "a very committed individual and determined to make a difference in the community." Ray says that his embrace of Wilson is "opportunity to build bridges" and "demonstrates that people can have certain differences and still be able to work together."

So what exactly are those differences?

Here's the big one that may matter to Ray's supporters: "I do not support gay marriage," Wilson says. "That's one issue that we disagree on."

Wilson said his opposition to gay marriage is "based on my concern about the black family. I don't think it's best for our community, and I speak specifically about the African-American community. That is solely the reason."

But he says that gays and lesbians should "have all the other benefits and rights" of heterosexual citizens, and he notes that, as a minister, he stayed out of the citywide debate on gay marriage last year. Those ministers who didn't, Wilson explained, had misplaced priorities: "I said to some clergy who were protesting, 'If you're so opposed to same-sex marriage, why aren't you so active in supporting man-and-woman marriage?'"

As for the infamous sermon: Ray said Thursday that Wilson "said he was sorry, that he certainly would have changed the tone of the sermon."

In an interview, Wilson did not apologize for the message of the sermon, but he did express regret at how it was perceived. "What was in the papers or the sermon itself was taken out of context," he said, and noted that the sentiment arose after he had volunteered to hold a funeral for a young lesbian woman who had been estranged from her family.

Ray further argues that Wilson's views have evolved since the sermon. "He's not in the same place he was five years ago," he says, adding: "I would rather have Rev. Wilson on my side rather than being an adversary."

Such pragmatic concerns seem to be more important to Ray's campaign than ideological purity in the short term: "Folks who know me know I am a man of principle. I know who I am and what I stand for," he said Thursday. "It's about building bridges, but it's also about winning a campaign."

Wilson says he's happy to oblige. "I'm going to do all I can to get him elected," he said.

UPDATE, 1:30 P.M.: Wilson has released a statement via Ray's campaign: "I support full civil equality for all residents of the District of Columbia - including those who comprise the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender & Questioning (GLBTQ) Community. I admire his willingness to reach out to all segments of this diverse city, to listen and to engage in discussions that are not always easy."

Will a commitment to "full civil equality" suffice for Ray's gay supporters? Hudson says the statement "addresses my concerns. If he's going to publicly endorse a gay man .. then I think the matter's closed."

I also spoke to Carlene Cheatam, another longtime gay activist supporting Ray, who says that she's not concerned about the endorsement. "Willie Wilson is not an enemy," she says. "I told Clark it's important to get as many endorsements as possible."

Photo courtesy of Clark Ray campaign

By Mike DeBonis  |  June 18, 2010; 12:10 PM ET
Categories:  Clark Ray , DCision 2010 , The District  
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Nothing is more humorous than sissies with bees in their bonnets getting upset and heterophobic over anything and everything unless it's a DC preacher pontificating. Richard Pryor was dead on.

Posted by: Calabrese99 | June 18, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

I don't get it...the candidate is gay, not the preacher. Why does the gay community care if someone who does not totally support their beliefs--a preacher at that--is supportive of a gay candidate. To me, that says a lot about Rev. Wilson, that he would set-aside his personal beliefs to support what he believes to be the best candidate. That's the thing I hate most about D.C. politics, if a candidate does not believe "everything" that one of their constituents believe then they will not get their support. Whatever happened to compromise.

Posted by: Beingsensible | June 18, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

I like what the minister said about finding other more pressing priorities to focus on like strengthening marriages.

We're lucky to live in a country where we have freedom of religion and freedom from religion too.

As a justice of the peace, I perform non-religious and civil wedding ceremonies for opposite-sex and same -sex couples all the time in CT where we support marriage equality.

Onward to equality and fairness in the 21st century.

Joe Mustich, Justice of the Peace,
Washington, Connecticut, USA.

Posted by: cornetmustich | June 18, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

I don't believe Rev. Wilson at ALL!

Posted by: linroy62 | June 18, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

If we polarize this city along Black-White, Gay-Religious, we get really crappy politicians with no where near a consensus mandate. I'd much rather have a politician that can work with opposition on some issues without conceding other beliefs. Clark Ray is a city wide candidate and thus he needs to represent more than the needs of Ward 1 or Ward 3.

Besides, between Ray or Mendolson, Mendolson has done more damage to the long term interests of the city's poor black youth than any other Councilman. He's a hack for entrenched unions and the DYRS disaster.

These are DC's biggest issues.

Posted by: FormerMCPSStudent | June 18, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

People need to see Wilson for what he is...a bigot. If you replace the 'N' word for every time he says something about gays of lesbians you would think he was a KKK member.
Wilson is not to be trusted, and neither is anyone he endorses.

Posted by: lsf07 | June 18, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

The Rev. backing full civil rights, coming out for LGBT equality, and building bridges to Clark Ray is what counts.

This is progress.

Posted by: chinaindc | June 18, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Phil has my vote-- like him or hate him, he has demonstrated progress for DC. Anyone who accepts the endorsement of a bigot will never get my vote. Be careful of what is under the sheepskin.

Posted by: Aimhigh2000 | June 18, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Roy Clark is once again demonstrating that he is blinded by personal ambition and devoid of principled leadership.

Posted by: actupdc | June 18, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

I think it's very rare in public discourse to see a person acknowledge a mistake and grow. You both deserve credit for working together despite your differences.

I hope Reverend Wilson's endorsement causes a lot of people to re-examine their prejudices.

Posted by: chinaindc | June 18, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Are you kidding? Rev. Wilson referred to people who disagreed with him as "needing a jacket put on 'em", meaning such people were snitches or sell outs. In several sermons immediately after the infamous one of July 2005, he made similar comments.

Taken out of context? Is Rev. Wilson kidding? People should go back to old copies of the Wash. Blade or City Paper; you can hear or read the entire sermon, which I was told by several friends who were there, it was otherwise a good one. Rev. Wilson started this mess about his youngest son not being able to get a date for the prom, "cause all the girls are gay, except for a few, and they're ugly." A smart reporter did some digging and found out due to the policies where his son went to school, his son wouldn't have been able to attend that prom that year. Plus, the smart reporter also found out the son already had a girlfriend AND SHE AND HER ENTIRE FAMILY ALSO WERE MEMBERS OF REV. WILSON'S CHURCH! So why would Rev. Wilson's son need a date for the prom? So just what context is Rev. Wilson talking about?

Rev. Wilson still does not get it; he still has no idea the many LGBTQ folks that are members of his church. He wants to promote marriage? Then he should ask himself why is it when women are being beat up by their boyfriends or husbands, those "good Christian brothers", and the women call his office, it takes him 6 months or more to return calls from such desperate women.

Rev. Wilson is very politically ambitious,so he should be watched carefully. The problem is not whether or not he supports gay marriage or would perform such a ceremony AS A CHRISTIAN PREACHER, rather, maybe we should ask if he thinks or believes AS A CHRISTIAN PREACHER, LGBTQI FOLKS ARE GOING TO HELL FOR BEING WHO THEY ARE. Also, was his homophobic meltdown due to one or more couples at his church getting divorced, due to one person in the couple coming out as gay after so many years of het marriage and children? Inquiring minds want to know! :(

Posted by: 424me | June 18, 2010 10:48 PM | Report abuse

Homophobia is intolerance which brings no benefit. As long as Clark Ray supports the right of same-sex marriage, then he's a worthy candidate for Washington, D.C. city council. Although Willie Wilson doesn't understand the right of same-sex marriage, Clark knows that it's important to reach out to different people who can get him the votes.

Posted by: LibertyForAll | June 18, 2010 11:15 PM | Report abuse

As a GAY MAN what is wrong with building bridges?

Posted by: Chris543 | June 18, 2010 11:15 PM | Report abuse

Roy Clark is once again demonstrating that he is blinded by personal ambition and devoid of principled leadership.

Posted by: actupdc | June 18, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

What does the former host of Hee Haw have to do with anything?

I still like Clark Ray, but this endorsement reminds me of how gross DC politics can be. Willie Wilson is a loathsome hatemonger. He should have zero influence over elections or elected officials.

Posted by: 20009matt | June 21, 2010 7:57 PM | Report abuse

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