Bayard Rustin was one of Martin Luther KingJr.
's closest advisors and a principal architect of the American Civil Rights movement forracial equality.
So why have you probably never heard of his name before? Because hewas gay.
To me this Quaker born pacifist Bayard Rustinis probably one of the most important Americans that many of us have never heard of, myselfincluded until just a few weeks ago when I ran across his name and was like, 'Why haveI never heard of him before?' No seriously I was doing a lot of this.
And the more Ilearned about Bayard Rustin the clearer it became that a civil rights hero was almosterased from history all because of homophobia.
Who organized the first freedom ride in 1947challenging segregation on interstate buses? Rustin.
Who helped organize the Montgomerybus boycott of 1956? Rustin.
And around that same time who introduced MLK Jr.
to Gandhi'steachings of non-violence? Rustin! In 1957 who helped Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
foundthe Southern Christian Leadership Conference? I'll give you one guess.
Andwho organized 1963's epic March on Washington for jobs and freedom where 200,000 non-violentblack protesters saw Martin Luther King Jr.
deliver his 'I have a dream' speech on theLincoln Memorial steps? Rustin! Duh.
But it was also Bayard Rustin who was arrested andjailed for 6 months in 1953 on the charges of sexual perversion for allegedly havingsex with another man because at the time being gay was essentially illegal in the UnitedStates.
It wouldn't be until 1962 that Illinois would become the first state to decriminalizesodomy and thus decriminalize being a gay man.
It wouldn't be until 1973that the psychiatriccommunity would finally remove homosexuality from its handbook of mental disorders.
Andin the wake of that arrest Rustin, who was openly out to his friends and family includinghis grandmother who he came out to when he was a teenage and she was basically like Bayardyou do you, it's fine, he wrote that quote, 'Sex must be sublimated if I am to live inthis world longer.
' In other words Rustin knew that he had to publicly closet his sexualorientation if he was also going to publicly fight for civil rights and racial equality.
But that still wasn't enough for organizations like Fellowship for Reconciliation that oustedhim after that 1953 arrest.
And that also wasn't enough in 1960 when Rustin was forcedto resign from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference after a black politician threatenedto start a rumor that Rustin and MLK Jr.
were having a gay affair together.
Nor was it enoughin 1963 when Roy Wilkins of the NAACP resisted Bayard Rustin's participation in organizingthe March for Washington because he did not want to have to defend homosexuality and promiscuity.
Ironically it would be racist South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond coming out on the Senatefloor and decrying this Rustin who is a draft dodging communist gay man who was organizingthis march and shouldn't they stop it, and he also entered into Congressional record,fact, a photo of Martin Luther King Jr.
in the bathtub talking to Rustin as evidenceof their possible homosexual affair that finally Rustin received some support from his fellowcivil rights activists.
And toward the end of his life in 1987 Bayard Rustin's activismre-ignited only this time championing gay rights, his sexual orientation and sex nolonger having to be sublimated.
He adopted his long term partner Walter Naegle becauseat that time gay men of course couldn't get married and adoption was the closest thatthey could come to being legally bound as family.
An embodiment of intersectionality,Bayard Rustin once said, 'We need in every community a group of angelic troublemakers.
'And to that I would add we also need to rewrite those troublemakers like Rustin back intohistory where they rightfully belong.