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Gay Rights = Civil Rights: Remembering Bayard Rustin

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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.

Bayard RustinBayard Rustin is a name to remember. (even though I’d forgotten the name for the past 10 years, I always remembered the story)  For as much as Dr. Martin Luther King was the face of the 60s civil rights movement, Bayard Rustin was the architect who made it all come together…and, work.  It was Dr. King’s vehicle, but it was Bayard Rustin’s well-designed road it traveled on its way to prominence.

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.

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From Lemons to the Sweetest Lemonade

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I am an administrator on one of the facebook pages set up in honor of Jamie Hubley.  It’s an outstanding community of loving, sharing, and caring.  In that community, I’ve met people who are now very dear to me, people I consider true friends, and people who are more of my family than any of the posers who share my same blood.  Also in that community are many of Jamie’s family members and friends.  I guess that’s what makes it so special.

One of the people in that group is Steph.  Steph and Jamie were friends for 10 years before his October suicide.  Steph is a breath of fresh air.  Being a normal teen, she’s gone through everything that most teens go through, including the bullying.  And, she’s stronger because of it.  So strong, in fact, she’s begun doing motivational speaking in her area to other teens.

Her story is one that will resonate with other young people.  I know it will because tonight, for the first time, Steph shared her story with us.  See, she was getting picked on because of who she is and where she is in life.  Her head sticks just a bit above the crowd.  You know what happens next.  True to form, the verbal tomatoes began to fly.  Rather than wilt under the weight of their criticisms, Steph opted to respond.  She did more than respond.  She knocked the wind straight out of their sails.

Inside “the Jamie community”, which is what it’s called by many, we get a lot of people who are hurting, in one way or another.  Sometimes, it gets really intense as we do have young people within the community who sometimes feel there’s no other way out.  The word is out, though, that this is definitely a go-to spot for people who are in need, young and not-so-young.  There’s never, ever a shortage of people who are there ready to give a listen and help out to the best of their ability.  Never.  And, there’s Steph.  She is always one of the ones who are right there in the thick of it all when things intensify.  She’s truly a remarkable girl, and she’s changing lives.

Life dealt her a lot of lemons from a very early age.  With them, she’s made some of the sweetest lemonade you’ll find anywhere.