Gay History – August 22, 1983: Organizers of the 20th Anniversary March of MLK Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech Deny Gays The Right to Speak

On August 22, 1983 organizers of a Washington march marking the 20th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech announced that no representatives from gay or lesbian rights groups would be allowed to speak.

In the months leading up to the twentieth anniversary of the march and King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, a coalition of civil rights groups met to plan a public commemoration in Washington, D.C.  

All except for the leaders from the LGBT community that is.

The event’s national director, Baptist minister Walter Fauntroy—who also served as the District of Columbia’s delegate to Congress—said the presence of homosexuals would be “divisive,” and that allowing gay leaders to share a stage with blacks and other leaders of progressive causes might be interpreted as advocacy of a gay way of life. LGBT civil rights had as much legitimacy as “penguin rights.”

Three days before the march, four gay men—three of whom were African American—were arrested for staging a sit-in at Fauntroy’s office. 

David Hunt  who was producing news  programming for the LGBT community for radio station KPFK in Southern California interviewed Charles Stewart, then a leader of the interracial group Black and White Men Together.

At the time of the interview, Fauntroy and Donna Brazile (pictured above) another organizer, (And yes the SAME Donna Brazile of the Democratic National Committee who served as the interim chairperson for the DNC after the Debbie Wasserman Schultz scandal) would remain steadfast in their efforts to exclude gays and lesbians from speaking at the march.

In the interview with Hunt, Stewart was quick to counter the notion that there was a rift between the African American and LGBT communities. He noted that 17 of the 20 members of the Congressional Black Caucus had endorsed a federal civil rights measure for gays and lesbians. .

The four men arrested in Fauntroy’s office were Mel Boozer, head of the National Gay Task Force, who died of an AIDS related illness in 1987, Ray Melrose, former president of the D.C. Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gay Men, Phil Pannell, a Democratic Party activist and Washington D.C. commissioner, and gay activist Gary Walker.

Fontroy would continue to fight against LGBT rights and in 2003 became one of the leaders of the anti-gay Alliance for Marriage.

*Sources:  The Nation and Gay in the 80’s

5 thoughts on “Gay History – August 22, 1983: Organizers of the 20th Anniversary March of MLK Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech Deny Gays The Right to Speak

  1. Will: I think there’s a missing noun –

    “… radio station KPFK in Southern [California?] interviewed Charles Stewart …”

  2. It’s inaccurate and dishonest to make it seem as if it people in 1983 were talking about “LGBT people.” “LGBT” had not yet been contrived, and the dispute detailed above concerned gays and lesbians. You don’t get to re-write history..

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