Tag Archives: Bayard Rustin

Gay History: The Incredible Life of Black and Gay Civil Rights Icon Bayard Rustin (March 17, 1912 – August 24, 1987)

PRIDE MONTH: The Incredible Life of Black Gay Civil Rights Icon Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Taylor Rustin was born in West Chester, Pa., March 17, 1912. He had no relationship with his father, and his 16-year-old mother, Florence, was so young he thought she was his sister. From his grandparents, Janifer and Julia Rustin, he took his Quaker “values,” which, in his words, “were based on the concept of a single human family and the belief that all members of that family are equal,”

As a teenager, Rustin wrote poems, played left tackle on the high school football team and, according to lore, staged an impromptu sit-in at a restaurant that would serve his white teammates but not him. When Rustin told his grandmother he preferred the company of young men to girls, she simply said, “I suppose that’s what you need to do.”

In 1937, Rustin moved to New York City after bouncing between Wilberforce University and Cheney State Teachers College. Enrolling at City College, he devoted himself to singing, performing with the Josh White Quartet and in the musical John Henry with Paul Robeson. He also joined the Young Communist League. Though he soon quit the party after it ordered him to cease protesting racial segregation in the U.S. armed forces. By this time he was already on the radar of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI.

Disappointed when the 1941 March on Washington was called off, Rustin joined the pacifist Rev. A.J. Muste’s Fellowship of Reconciliation, and when FOR members in Chicago launched the Congress of Racial Equality in 1942, Rustin traveled around the country speaking out. Two years later, he was arrested for failing to appear before his draft board and refusing alternative service as a conscientious objector. Sentenced to three years in prison, he ended up serving 26 months, angering authorities with his desegregation protests and open homosexuality to the point they transferred him to a higher-security prison.

Once released, Rustin embarked on CORE’s 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, an early version of the Freedom Rides, to test the Supreme Court’s ruling in Morgan v. Virginia (1946) that any state forcing segregation on buses crossing state lines would be in violation of the Commerce Clause. It was a noble attempt, but Rustin soon found himself on a chain gang in North Carolina.

As part of his deepening commitment to nonviolent protest, Rustin traveled to India in 1948 to attend a world pacifist conference. Mahatma Gandhi had been assassinated earlier that year, but his teachings touched Rustin in profound ways. “We need in every community a group of angelic troublemakers,” he wrote after returning to the States. “The only weapon we have is our bodies, and we need to tuck them in places so wheels don’t turn”

In January 1953, Rustin, after delivering a speech in Pasadena, Calif., was arrested on “lewd conduct” and “vagrancy” charges, allegedly for a sexual act involving two white men in an automobile. With the FBI’s file on Rustin expanding, FOR demanded his resignation

In 1956, on the advice of labor leader and activist A. Philip Randolph, Rustin traveled to Alabama to lend support to Dr. King, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. While remaining out of the spotlight, Rustin played a critical role in introducing King to Gandhi’s teachings while writing publicity materials and organizing carpools. After helping King organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1956-1957, Rustin demonstrated against the French government’s nuclear test program in North Africa. As he once said, so simply and clear, “I want no human being to die”

In 1960 Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. of New York, angry that Rustin and King were planning a march outside the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, warned King that if he did not drop Rustin, Powell would tell the press King and Rustin were gay lovers. Regardless of the fact that Powell had concocted the charge for his own malicious reasons, King, in one of his weaker moments, called off the march and put distance between himself and Rustin, who reluctantly resigned from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was led by King.  Rustin put the movement ahead of this vicious personal slight.

The idea for the 1963 march again came from A. Philip Randolph, who wondered if younger activists were giving short shrift to economic issues as they pushed for desegregation in the South. In 1962, he recruited Rustin, and the two began making plans, this time to commemorate the centennial of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Rustin traveled to Alabama to meet with King and expanded the march’s focus to “Jobs and Freedom.” From the march’s headquarters in New York, he looked forward to leading the planning coalition of the “Big Six” civil rights organizations: SNCC, CORE, SCLC, the National Urban League, the NAACP and Randolph’s Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. But Rustin’s past again came into play when Roy Wilkins of the NAACP refused to allow Rustin to be the front man because of his homosexuality. “This march is of such importance that we must not put a person of his liabilities at the head,” Randolph agreed to serve as the march’s director with Rustin as his deputy.

The march itself, of course, turned out to be a tremendous success, including those glorious moments when the official estimate of 200,000 was announced (actually, there was as many as 300,000, says Life.com); when Marian and Mahalia sang; when Mrs. Medgar Evers paid tribute to “Negro Women Freedom Fighters”; when John Lewis and Dr. King spoke; and when Bayard Rustin read the march’s demands.

Afterward, the leaders of the Big Six met with President Kennedy at the White House. Rustin remained out of sight, though he and Randolph did make it onto the cover of Life Sept. 6.  Eight days later, four young girls went to their deaths in the Birmingham church bombing; in November, President Kennedy was gunned down, leaving President Lyndon Johnson to shuttle the Civil Rights Act through Congress, signing it in 1964, the same year Dr. King received the Nobel Prize, with Rustin planning the logistics of his trip to Oslo. It was, to say the least, history at its most dramatic, shocking — and unpredictable — at every turn.

Rustin remained engaged in the struggle for justice despite tensions from other black activist. When Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., Rustin participated in the memorial march and demanded economic justice for sanitation workers. At the same time, he expanded his focus on international causes, including offering support to Israel, promoting free elections in Central America and Africa and aiding refugees as vice chairman of the International Rescue Committee.

During the 1980s, Rustin also opened up publicly about his homosexuality (This coincided with his falling in love with Walter Naegle, who now serves as executor and archivist of Rustin’s estate.)

Rustin testified on behalf of New York State’s Gay Rights Bill. In 1986, he gave a speech “The New Niggers Are Gays,” in which he asserted,

Today, blacks are no longer the litmus paper or the barometer of social change. Blacks are in every segment of society and there are laws that help to protect them from racial discrimination. The new “niggers” are gays…. It is in this sense that gay people are the new barometer for social change…. The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people.

For his part, Rustin worked to bring the AIDS crisis to the attention of the NAACP, once predicting, “Twenty-five, 30 years ago, the barometer of human rights in the United States were black people. That is no longer true. The barometer for judging the character of people in regard to human rights is now those who consider themselves gay, homosexual, lesbian.”

Bayard Rustin died on August 24, 1987, just four days shy of the March on Washington’s 24th anniversary

On November 20, 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

 

Don’t Like The Gay Scene? Too Bad Cause You’re A Part Of It Anyway

gay party

We are a community. We are diverse with our own styles music preferences and goals. We want to be treated as an individual being that has different aspirations and dreams and driving force that gets us out of bed each morning. We may not all engage in the same activities or have the same interests. We may not prefer to participate in activism or show up for Pride each year. We may not have any resemblance to what is referred to as a gay lifestyle. But we are still a community that shares a commonality that sets us apart from the rest of society.

Even though the word and meaning of community itself is used too broadly or has been pontificated too extensively we are all still members of a diverse community of men and women that share one commonality in that we are different than the rest of society. A difference that may take a lifetime to accept but once it happens, becomes a milestone of growth. So much of our time as activists and leaders is spent on eradicating this truth that we are different while advocating for equal rights to the point now that it’s laughable. Some of us have yet to understand that different doesn’t mean better or worse. Just different.

So while posters are made to illustrate how we all want families with the perfect spouse that precedes having perfect children and perfect careers and perfect lives, it completely omits the fact that we love having sex with other men.  Numerous seminars and endless lecturers going across the country explaining that the reason we deserve the right to marry is because we are all the same when we aren’t. We are different than our straight counterparts and it’s an injustice to who we really are to argue otherwise. What we should be doing is showing how those differences should have no bearing on our rights as citizens of this country and how we should be celebrating these attributes rather than hiding them.

Those of you who’ve read my past assertions know this isn’t the first time I’ve spoken about embracing our differences because that is what brings real change in society. Real change does not happen by assimilating or replicating some notion of normality that closely emulates the rest of society. This is usually what I say when talking to some zealot that calls us sinners but today I’m reiterating this message for us as well. Because truthfully nothing aggravates and saddens me more than seeing fellow gay men who harbor on the perceived negative attributes of this community so much that they feel the need to separate themselves from it. Or even worse campaign against it. This is much more than a criticism or observation on how we need to improve. It’s outright contempt that leads to their own dissonance from this community and is so strong that they renounce their gay membership.

At some point some of us felt that in order to have all the rights as the rest of society meant that we have to distance ourselves from the people who are the most like us. So in turn you’ll see some that’ll place themselves on a pedestal while giving some wistful humorous sermon about how degrading gay culture is. They’ll haughtily laud about messy bottoms and the degrading obstacles to quench their thirst or tops who don’t know how to be a man all while projecting their obvious self-loathing on to everyone else.

They will only focus on the adventures in bathhouses with disdain or worse that they will disgustingly treat the men in our community living with HIV as if they’re lepers while making tacky, tasteless jokes. Sadly this behavior is not limited to those living with HIV. The apathy towards the transgender men and women in this community still astounds me to this day. The ardent disregard and dry puns while these men and women are being beaten and murdered with hardly any stringent federal laws to protect them. We even have so called LGBT leaders that dismiss their transphobia as being too sensitive.

Those leaders will start misguided campaigns all to increase their agency and once their hot button reaction has become apathetic they move on to their next object. All this while not listening to those who are in the trenches seeing the harsh realities every day rather than in suit and ties at a gala for celebrities that want to boost their image. They’ll constantly say how we need to better ourselves while all they do is bring nothing but their own negativity and bitterness. They are too jaded to give real constructive criticism on how to further enrich our community.

Sometimes wanting to distance oneself from the community is about the rejection from others within this community. Because when some of us feel so much pressure to fit into this mold of what we’re supposed to say or do that we feel lost and without a voice. As a result they feel there’s no other alternative than to completely distance themselves from anything they associate with being gay out of self-preservation and maintaining their sanity. It all becomes so overwhelming because they feel as though people will only see gay and nothing else.

It all saddens and frustrates me to no end. Each time I come across these men I challenge them to seek out more than what is so easily seen on the surface because I’ve learned that no matter how much you assert that you need distance from this community that you will always be a member. The more you insist that as a whole, we are nothing more than a bunch of hypersexualized drug addicts looking for the next conquest to fodder over on social media that you are still a member of this community. No matter how you’re not into the gay scene or whatever you entail that to be. No matter how disheartened by what you believe to be superficial or uncaring about this community you are still a member.

Just like I will always be an African American, no matter what it is a part of who I am. Sure I could distance myself as much as I want from rap and rhythm and blues and Afros and cornrows and dance moves like twerking or stereotypes like eating fried chicken or watermelon or any other cultural aspect that identifies me will never separate me from the truth that I will always be a black man and society will always remember that as well.

Because if I deny all that is associated with being an African American then I’m also denying the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King and Bayard Rustin and Rosa Parks. I’m missing out on learning more about the collective history and embracing a history rich with an aesthetic that instills survival and perseverance that taught me how to stand even when it seems meaningless. Observing it enables me to know how I want to be treated and how I choose to interact with others. This mindset helped me understand that simply submitting to my adversaries or their oppressive objectives leads to more oppression.

And the same goes for being gay. Distancing yourself from gays that go clubbing is like distancing yourself from those that stood up for their right, our right at Stonewall Inn so that you have the right to choose. Saying that you’re too good to associate with gays that are too effeminate or too girly is like saying you’re not really gay because wanting to be with another man is a feminine trait. It’s this type of self-hate that people who have the proclivity to renounce gay life that is so damning it rivals the bigots that make it their life mission to campaign against us. It’s counterproductive and it needs to end. You will always be gay and no amount of fitting in or assimilating or emulating or distancing from the rest of us is ever going to change that.

All of this I’m sure I’ve mentioned before but this installment is the result of talking to a guy I spoke with today that told me that he hates being gay because he is tired of being seen only as one big stereotype that society will never accept. And he’s even more disheartened by what he describes as the constant animosity he experiences within the gay community. The conversation knocked the wind out of me because he essentially disliked his identity and those associated with it so much that even with the unwavering support of his loved ones he hates being gay and hates himself. And it broke my heart a bit hearing him have such a hopeless resolve.

He expressed that he doesn’t feel like he has the freedom to truly embrace who he is without being judged as being too feminine or not manly enough. And when he does embrace those aspects of himself that men say his aren’t good enough for him and that men that do accept his “gayer” side that he encounters aren’t interested in anything outside of those stereotypes of sex and drugs. He went further on this point by saying he doesn’t have the perfect body so feels like he’s constantly being critiqued. So he feels that he has to distance himself from the rest of us because no one will ever see him as more than a stereotype. Naturally I sympathized with this sentiment as I myself felt animosity towards this community I was made to feel as though I’m a magical negro that’s only purpose was to fulfill any sexual desires of the men I slept with.

But I explained to him as I’m explaining to you all know that while the actions of others can detour you from wanting to associate with the community as a whole that you cannot let that stop you from seeking out meaningful friendships and relationships from this community. As I spoke my words became more passionate because while I understand where the urge comes from to show your individuality, giving up on finding something meaningful from other gay men does nothing. While I realize that the man I spoke with today may just have a general depressive affect men at this point of his life his sentiment is experienced by a lot of other gay men.

So in my opinion it’s imperative that we remember we are a community. Regardless of the circumstances of why you are in conflict this is still a part of you. Challenge yourself to see the diversity and be an active member of your own life that seeks out what relationships you want from other people. You can choose to give into believing that whatever you perceive to be superficial all that exists within this community and miss out or keep looking and asking. Never settle for what you see on that surface.

 

Bayard Rustin & Astronaut Sally Ride To Be Awarded Presidential Medal Of Freedom Posthumously

Sally Ride and Banyard

Civil right activist Bayard Rustin, who organized the 1963 March On Washington, and astronaut Sally Ride,will be among the recipients of this year’s Presidential Medal Of Freedom awards, the highest honor given to any civilian.

Via press release from the White House:

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Executive Order signed by President John F. Kennedy establishing the Presidential Medal of Freedom, as well as the first ceremony bestowing the honor on an inaugural class of 31 recipients. Since that time, more than 500 exceptional individuals from all corners of society have been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President Obama said, “The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours. This year’s honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world. It will be my honor to present them with a token of our nation’s gratitude.”

Other recipients this year include Ernie Banks, Ben Bradlee, Daniel Inouye, Daniel Kahneman, Richard Lugar, Loretta Lynn, Mario Molina, Arturo Sandoval, Dean Smith, Gloria Steinem, C.T. Vivian, Patricia Wald, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cinton.

August 28th marks the 50th anniversary of Bayard Rustin’s March On Washington.

MLK’s Anti-Gay Niece Alveda Defends Herself Rewriting History and Lying About Bayard Rustin

Yesterday I wrote about Alveda King, the niece of the late great civil rights champion Martin Luther King.  Alveda who has been cashing in for years on her uncles last name is severely homophobic and bigoted “christian” who has cast her lot with the extreme right GOP and use her uncles name to push their and her anti-gay agenda.

Yesterday Alveda “denounced” the NAACP for deciding to support same sex marriage bu using her uncles name.  And now today feeling the heat for critisms he strikes back yet again not only once more besmirching the name of her great uncle but also that of  Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s right hand man and friend who helped to organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to strengthen King’s leadership.

Said Alveda:

The 21st century homosexual lobby likes to point to the professional relationship between my uncle Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bayard Rustin, his openly homosexual staffer who left the movement at the height of the campaign. Rustin attempted to convince Uncle M. L. that homosexual rights were equal with civil rights. Uncle M. L. did not agree, and would not attach the homosexual agenda to the 20th century civil rights struggles. So Mr. Rustin resigned. He was a brilliant strategist and was hired by Uncle M. L. not because he was gay, but because he was a capable strategist. He also was not fired, he chose to resign. My uncle was not a bigot, and he didn’t judge people for the color of their skin nor their sexual orientation. Neither do I. As compassionate Christians who won’t be forced to sit on the back of the bus as far as our spiritual commitments are concerned, we can be compassionate without endorsing sin.” – Alveda King

So here we have more lies, doublespeak, and now rewritig of civil rights history from a woman with no shame who’s riding the MLK gravy train.

Lets have Alvin McEwan at Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters take Alveda King to task from here.

Between me and you, from one African-American to another, I would like personally like to know just what constitutes you as a genuine leader in the black community?

To my knowledge, no one has taken the initiative to ask you that question, so I would like to. Do you really think that your relationship to one of the greatest American leaders of the 20th century makes you a leader?

I don’t think so. On my father’s side of my family, I am a distant cousin to the rapper Lil Bow Wow, but at no time have I rushed to a record company demanding a contract.

Ms. King, it takes more than familial connections to make one a leader. Allow me to school you on the qualities.

A leader sacrifices for others.

A leader does not seek the spotlight.

A leader works his or her fingers to the bone for a cause.

A leader inspires others.

A leader puts him or herself on the line more than once even though success of the cause may not be assured.

Bayard Rustin had all of these qualities. You have none of them. Ever since you have shown your face in the public arena, the only person you seemed to have cared about is yourself. You inspire no one. You do the least amount of work. And worst of all, none of your fame comes from anything you have done, but only due to the fact that you had the good fortune to be related to Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you didn’t have this familial relation, no one would care about anything you say.

So please stop lying to yourself as to your status and your impact. You have neither.

And while I detest how you are reaping the benefits of your uncle’s hard work, I have nothing to do with it.

BUT I will be damned if I say nothing while you besmirch the name of a man whose hard work put you in your pseudo-prominent situation.

Bayard Rustin was a leader in every since of the word.  You aren’t.

And while you may have King’s DNA, you are sorely lacking in his integrity or love.

You go and make your money, now.

Consider yourself checked and dismissed.

Well said Sir!  Well said!