Join 3,418 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Bayard Rustin, Civil Rights and Gay Rights Pioneer
January 17, 2011 5:02 PM   Subscribe

Bayard Rustin was an important civil rights activist, the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington and an invaluable strategist to Martin Luther King, Jr. Despite opposition relating to his status as an openly gay man, he continued to contribute throughout his life to the struggle for racial equality and later, for gay and lesbian equality.

Previously.
posted by Morrigan (26 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's a shame that some in the civil rights movement were unable to generalize the implications of their battle against discrimination.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:24 PM on January 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Thanks for this post, I've been meaning to make a similar post after being inspired by a "State of the Re:union" radio broadcast, I highly recommend it: "Who was this man"
posted by 445supermag at 5:24 PM on January 17, 2011


Thank you for this, I didn't know about Bayard Rustin before this. He sounds like a great man. It sounded like they said he spoke at the March on Washington also. Does anyone know if there is a recording of that? My quick google didn't find anything. I might like to add that to my Zune if there is one.
posted by MrBobaFett at 5:54 PM on January 17, 2011


The recent documentary is inspiring.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:56 PM on January 17, 2011


I might be remembering this wrong, MrBobaFett, but I don't think he did speak at the March on Washington. He organized the thing, but he was relegated to behind-the-scenes roles, because he was gay and had been a communist, and both things were considered embarrassing.
posted by craichead at 6:09 PM on January 17, 2011


Oops! Looks like I'm wrong. There's a snippet here.
posted by craichead at 6:26 PM on January 17, 2011


I'd never heard of the man until they named a new local high school after him. That the debate over the name choice was so short lived was reassuring
posted by MangyCarface at 6:48 PM on January 17, 2011


This man, right here, is a perfect example to hold up in response to people who say "why do you have to emphasize when someone from history is gay"? His invisibility and near anonymity to many even who have fought the struggle for sexual orientation and expression equality is a result of the shroud of social mores of his time, and it is good that we dig him out from under that and hold him up as a pioneer and champion.

Thanks for this post. Thank you very much.
posted by hippybear at 8:24 PM on January 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


If nothing else, Bayard Rustin and his eventual ouster from the SCLC for being openly gay is a pointed reminder that we shouldn't whitewash history. Martin Luther King Jr was a great man on the subject of racial equality, but he was viciously homophobic, and we shouldn't let that detract from his good works any more than we should let his good works excuse his hate.
posted by kafziel at 8:24 PM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Where do you get the idea that King was viciously homophobic?
posted by creasy boy at 8:52 PM on January 17, 2011


Thanks for the post -- I never knew about him, and am a tiny bit more enlightened for having read this!

Hopefully, some day we'll be able to root out the virulent homophobia that still exists in the African American community (which is very obviously apparent to me here in DC, which has large and pronounced black and gay communities that have virtually no overlap and a history of violent conflict). It also makes people like Antoine Dodson all the more fascinating to me -- to be an openly gay black man living in a housing project in the deep south must take an astonishing amount of courage.

Sadly, our country's long and painful racial history makes it very difficult to speak on these issues without committing some sort of taboo. To say that it's a sensitive subject is a dramatic understatement.
posted by schmod at 8:59 PM on January 17, 2011


I think it would really be a mistake to think of Rustin as (just) a victim of black homophobia, schmod. He was fired from his job at the predominantly-white Fellowship of Reconciliation for being gay, and Strom Thurmond used his sexuality to try to discredit him and MLK, with whom Stromond implied Rustin was having a sexual relationship. He faced plenty of homophobia from white people.
posted by craichead at 9:27 PM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Erm, Stromond? I need to go to bed!
posted by craichead at 9:29 PM on January 17, 2011


Where do you get the idea that King was viciously homophobic?

Indeed, his widow Coretta Scott King has been a leader in fighting for LGBT rights.

Hopefully, some day we'll be able to root out the virulent homophobia that still exists in the African American community

Why specifically target that community when there's plenty of virulent homophobia to go around in every race?
posted by kmz at 9:31 PM on January 17, 2011


but he was viciously homophobic

Who told you that, and what do you mean by it?
posted by Burhanistan at 9:48 PM on January 17, 2011


It's disheartening to see racial stereotyping on display here in a thread about civil rights.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:51 PM on January 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


It wasn't so much King who was "viciously homophobic" as it was other leaders in the movement who were. Adam Clayton Powell (for example), with LBJ's encouragement, spread rumors that Rustin was having a secret homosexual affair with King. In any case it's kind of anachronistic to say that so-and-so was "viciously homophobic" at that time. Virtually the entire country was viciously homophobic. It was ingrained in the culture. If anyone was viciously homophobic toward Rustin, it was Robert Kennedy. He called Rustin an "old black fairy" who would bring discredit to King's movement.

Rustin never got due credit during his lifetime and was continually marginalized by the very people he was working with in the movement. The left also eventually turned against Rustin, deriding him as a "labor lieutenant of capitalism."

Rustin really is still the one major unsung hero of the civil rights movement, and nobody with any prominence in public life nowadays ever acknowledges his undeniable and indispensable contributions, starting with his work to desegregate the US military in 1948. I'd say his contributions to gay civil rights are also largely ignored by the elites of the white LGBT community. He spoke out strongly about the gay rights movement in the 1980s. He lobbied Ed Koch and members of the the New York city council to vote in favor of legislation to add sexual orientation to the list of protected categories in the city's human rights code in 1985-1986. He spoke out against the Bowers v. Hardwick decision in Foley Square. He was an inspiration in manifold ways.
posted by blucevalo at 10:15 PM on January 17, 2011 [13 favorites]


I'd add that if we're keeping score on who's viciously homophobic, I'd point the finger less at MLK in the 1950s and 1960s than at a couple of his children and at least one of his nieces today, who are as bigoted and virulently anti-gay as they come and would probably screech "Filthy degenerate!" at Bayard Rustin were he still around to hear it.
posted by blucevalo at 11:06 PM on January 17, 2011


Bayard Rustin shows up as a fairly important minor character in the middle novel of James Ellroy's most recent trilogy - The Cold Six Thousand. It dips into both his homosexuality and communist past. Good read if you want to see a fictionalized staging of the historical overlap between commie unrest, civil rights movement unrest, and nascent gay-rights unrest, and the various players who had a stake in one side of it or another...
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 6:54 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Rustin really is still the one major unsung hero of the civil rights movement, and nobody with any prominence in public life nowadays ever acknowledges his undeniable and indispensable contributions, starting with his work to desegregate the US military in 1948.


Good news! Last night, at the 25th Annual Martin Luther King Jr Holiday Celebration at Cornish Memorial AME Zion here in Key West, a very large and grandly distinguished church with a decidedly African-American (aka black) congregation, Bayard Rustin got a couple major shout-outs. Not only that, but many of the speakers—who were 1) Christians, and 2) black—specifically mentioned or included lesbians and gays in their words. The mayor was present, and he's Republican, and he shared with no small excitement that at this week's Mayors Conference in DC he is meeting President Barack Obama.

One of the city councilmen, Clayton Lopez, got up and delivered a full speech on Bayard Rustin and spoke on the inseparability of gay rights and black rights from civil rights. "it is impossible not to see they are the same thing," he said to much applause. Commissioner Lopez is Christian, black, and not-gay.

I myself am president of the Key West Gay & Lesbian community center. Yet I am welcome as a brother of the church, the congregation, and the community.

Key West prides itself on being a model community for the rest of the world. As I have pointed out previously the official philosophy of the island is "All People Are Created Equal Members of ONE HUMAN FAMILY". We have had the same social challenges as everywhere else. Yet perhaps because of our size—2 miles by 4 miles, that's it—social change happens here with greater vigor and urgency.

And that's good news. It means that change is happening. Times do change, they just require participation. In larger places and on larger landscapes, the change obviously takes longer. But reporting from Key West, I want everyone to know, good things are happening.

PS Here is the Bayard Rustin documentary Brother Outsider in its entirety, legally provided by the company which produced it, Logo. It's the gay TV channel.
posted by Mike Mongo at 8:13 AM on January 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


That is good news, Mike Mongo. Thanks for sharing that!
posted by blucevalo at 8:23 AM on January 18, 2011


David McReynolds on Bayard Rustin
posted by maurice at 9:29 AM on January 18, 2011


PS Here is the Bayard Rustin documentary Brother Outsider in its entirety, legally provided by the company which produced it, Logo.

Logo didn't produce it; it was an independent production. Logo has done incredible work in broadcasting and distributing it over the past few years, though.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:17 AM on January 18, 2011


DC, which has large and pronounced black and gay communities that have virtually no overlap

This suggests that are virtually no gay African-Americans in Washington, DC, and I don't think that's the case. Do you mean that the gay community in Washington, DC is largely segregated?
posted by layceepee at 12:36 PM on January 18, 2011


I keep trying to watch the documentary in Mike Mongo's link, but get a "playlist error" error and then nothing. Other films from that website have played fine in the interim, but I don't can't watch this one, for some reason.

Anyone else having similar problems?
posted by hippybear at 1:32 PM on January 23, 2011


Well, the Logo website contact form is broken, and I'm not going to sign up for Twitter just to inform them that their video player is broken when it comes to the Bayard Rustin documentary. So I guess I'll never get to watch it.

Oh well.
posted by hippybear at 2:31 PM on January 25, 2011


« Older Following 25 years of exile, and disembarking in t...  |  Matthew Irvine Brown has writt... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments