Ray faces gay backlash after taking minister's endorsement in D.C. race
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
June 18, 2010; 12:10 PM ET
Categories: Clark Ray , DCision 2010 , The District
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