Gay activists' protest overshadows concert

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COLUMBIA - A week ago, the campaign for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was passing out fliers in this early voting state, eagerly promoting a gospel concert dubbed "Embrace the Change."

Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama speaks to supporters Friday in Columbus, Ohio.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama speaks to supporters Friday in Columbus, Ohio.

Now a week later, the concert is overshadowed by gay and lesbian activists upset that a singer who says homosexuality is a choice has not been removed from the lineup. Mr. Obama's campaign tried to quell the anger by adding an openly gay pastor to the event, but the activists weren't appeased and planned a protest outside Sunday's concert - once seen as a unifying moment.

The campaign backlash piqued with a conference call Thursday night between one of Mr. Obama's top strategists, Joshua DuBois, trying to ease national criticism and discontent from more than a dozen of South Carolina's top gay and lesbian activists.

The concert Mr. DuBois saw as an event to bring people together had actually fractured supporters who noticed that Grammy-winning singer Donnie McClurkin was a headliner.

Mr. McClurkin, who performed at the Republican National Convention in 2004, said this week that "sexuality, everything is a matter of choice."

Mr. Obama's campaign damage-control effort - putting the openly gay Rev. Andy Sidden on the program - did little to lessen the activists' outrage.

By week's end, the affable Mr. DuBois, who was interviewed by The Associated Press after Mr. Obama's "40 Days of Faith and Family" workshop a week ago, wasn't responding to calls or e-mail.

It was a stark contrast for the 25-year-old lay minister and stepson of an African Methodist Episcopal minister, who exhibited a glow when he talked about wrapping up the workshops and launching the concert.

Like plenty of others, Mr. DuBois became a supporter of Mr. Obama during a 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention. The Illinois senator hooked Mr. DuBois, a political science and public affairs grad, when he said Democrats "worship an awesome God in the blue states."

This, Mr. DuBois said, "is somebody I've got to find a little more about. Because he seemed to be able to combine those two separate areas in a way that was healthy and healing."

Mr. Obama hired Mr. DuBois in 2005 after winning his Senate seat.

"He needed someone that would be a liaison, understanding the policy concerns of people of faith," Mr. DuBois said. "That's how I started with him."

Mr. DuBois helps Mr. Obama navigate the line between the pulpit and politics with workshops before small groups such as the one last week in West Columbia. They watched an Obama video and talked about places where politics and faith intersect.

It's unclear whether Mr. DuBois was ready for this week's backlash. When the conference call about Mr. McClurkin ended, gay activists and leaders of the South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement agreed to hold a protest.


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