Gay Rights = Civil Rights: Remembering Bayard Rustin
I heard this story on “In the Life” maybe 10 years ago. Then, it was placed right back on a hanger and put back in the closet. It couldn’t have resurfaced at a more significant time. For as far as we’ve come, we do still have work to do. More importantly, it’s crucial, in this day of rampant LGBT teen suicides, for the young people to understand that they truly ARE part of the fabric of this world, that their contributions have the potential of being significant.
Stories of Rustin’s homosexuality began to surface in 1960 forcing King and the Civil Rights movement to part ways with him. To their thinking, exposure would certainly derail their uber-important efforts. Unfortunately, they were probably right. But, by 1963, Rustin had resurfaced with the Civil Rights movement, albeit more behind the scene, and went on to architect what we now know as the 1963 Freedom March on Washington which gave birth to the timeless “I Have A Dream” speech by Dr. King.
Why is this important? Well, for one, I believe that it is crucial for young LGBT teens to understand that we DO have a voice, that we ARE important, and that their own lives ARE definitely worth living. Seeing the accomplishments of Bayard Rustin, and the universal importance of his efforts should inspire anyone, especially a confused and questioning LGBT teen. Without Bayard Rustin, Dr. King’s rise to legendary leader of peace may have never happened.
Of equal importance to me at least, as an older black and gay man, is the realization that the Civil Rights movement of yesterday and the Gay Rights movement of today are one and the same. Intertwined. I recently read a comment saying, basically, that the black community had taken issue with people linking the two together. Quickly, I responded. Paraphrased, I told them that they are absolutely the same fight. More to the point, it’s the same fight against the same establishment. What this means is that, for all of our gains we’ve experienced over the past decade (and, certainly, over the past 18-24 months), we still have a ton of work to do. The battle is not won. Not yet. Then again, neither is the one for racial equality, proving that we must continue to press forward and fight those who would delight in seeing us all locked back in the closet. That way, they can go back to pretending that we don’t exist.
I guess the message here is that we all, whether we’re straight, LGBT, black, white, green, or Venusian, have a voice and a contribution to make to the well-being of our society. Bayard Rustin’s contributions will resonate forever.