For MLK Day, Remembering a Forgotten Gay Civil Rights Hero
This week we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to celebrate the life and legacy of a man who advanced hope and justice in America. Coretta Scott King, his wife and a champion for LGBT equality, famously said, “Gays and lesbians stood up for civil rights in Montgomery, Selma, in Albany, Ga. and St. Augustine, Fla., and many other campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement. Many of these courageous men and women were fighting for my freedom at a time when they could find few voices for their own, and I salute their contributions.” Today we share the story of Bayard Rustin, a gay man who was a key leader in the civil rights movement.
According to the Chicago History Museum, Bayard Rustin (1912-87) was instrumental in bringing Gandhi’s protest techniques from India to America in the 1940s, a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr., and an organizer of the seminal 1963 March on Washington. Despite his achievements, Rustin was expunged from history—largely because he dared to be an openly gay man during a fiercely homophobic era.
In the 1980s, Bayard Rustin testified on behalf of the New York State’s Gay Rights Bill in which he asserted that “gay people are the new barometer for social change.” Below is an excerpt of a video that tells some of the story of his life. I hope on this MLK day that the words of Coretta Scott King will inspire action, “I believe all Americans who believe in freedom, tolerance and human rights have a responsibility to oppose bigotry and prejudice based on sexual orientation.”