Monday, 16 January 2012

The day Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fired Bayard Rustin because Rustin was gay

Black gay icon Bayard Rustin organized the 1963 March on Washington (Photo from director Bennett Singer's 2003 documentary film Brother Outsider)

There is a rich history of anti-gay sentiment in Black politics, notably the shunning of the godfather of America’s Black civil rights movement, Bayard Rustin, who was even betrayed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr..

The root of Rustin’s isolation was his arrest in Pasadena, California, the night of Jan. 21, 1953, when Bayard (then 41) was found making out with two hot young studs in the back seat of a car. He spent 60 days in prison.

Then, while leading the push for a strong civil rights plank at the 1960 Democratic Party convention, Rustin was attacked by – believe it or not – Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. as an "immoral element" in the civil rights movement.

Powell demanded Dr. King drop Rustin or he’d tell the press that King and Rustin were lovers (they weren’t). So King – to whom Rustin had taught non-violent protest at the 1956 Montgomery bus boycott – told Rustin to get lost.

"Bayard was more upset, as I remember it, by the personal betrayal," Rachelle Horowitz, Rustin’s personal assistant for 17 years, recalls in the award-winning 2003 documentary film Brother Outsider. "How could King let Adam Clayton Powell do this to him? I think it was one of the worst blows in Bayard’s life."
Bureau of Prisons mug shot of Bayard Rustin
during a federal sentence for failing to report
for his Selective Service physical exam.
However, the root of Rustin’s isolation within the
Black civil-rights movement was his arrest in
Pasadena, California, the night of Jan. 21, 1953,
when Bayard (then 41) was found making out
with two hot young studs in the back seat of a
car. He spent 60 days in prison.

Still, Rustin swallowed his pride for the movement.

When it came time to organize the Aug. 28, 1963 March on Washington, though, there was only one man who could do the job: Rustin, who was appointed deputy-director over the objections of Senator Strom Thurmond, who denounced Rustin as a faggot on the Senate floor.

But civil rights elder statesman A. Philip Randolph agreed to organize the march only if Rustin could work with him, and other civil rights leaders agreed because they wanted Randolph.

Meanwhile, Malcolm X was also as queer as a Three Dollar Bill.

Malcolm’s bisexuality has been an open secret for years, at least since the publication of author Bruce Perry’s acclaimed 1991 biography Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America (Station Hill).

But Malcolm got married and had children. He’d seen what the Black establishment did to Bayard Rustin.

When it comes to LGBTQ civil rights, though, the late Coretta Scott King – who publicly supported same-sex marriage – said in 1998, "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."

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is best known for his "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington organized by the same man who taught him non-violent protest, Black gay icon Bayard Rustin.

I have a dream too: Full equality for LGBTQ people everywhere.

Had Dr. King survived his 1968 assassination, I'd like to think he would have come around to support queer civil rights today as well.

1 comment:

  1. Adam Clayton Powell and his wife Hazel Scott were also bisexual. They loved to have three-ways. But I'n not one to gossip so you didn't hear that from me.