Gay Rights And Civil Rights
I was reading a post over at The Rainbow Room today and came across a subject I’ve been meaning to write about, but have been putting off for some time. The post gave me just the boost I needed. I’m only disappointed that I’m not able to add more to it, but for now, a “short” yet long-overdue tribute is in play.
People often draw parallels between the civil rights movement and the gay rights movement and I’m no exception. Such a declaration is usually followed by rejection or outright indignation over making such a comparison by those in heartfelt disagreement. Yet, most people have no idea that one of most important men in the history of the fight for black civil rights in America was an openly gay man, and one of Martin Luther King Jr’s top advisors.
His name is Bayard Rustin. He was admired and respected for his passion and non-violent spirit, which was key in revamping the way Dr. King would go on to fight against racism, discrimination, and prejudice in America. Rustin’s homosexuality was accepted among his colleagues and those close to the movement as long as it remained invisible. His most difficult times during the struggle would come on the heels of blackmail and threats used against him as a result of his sexuality. There are instances where his colleagues were forced to choose between defending him or tossing him aside at the risk of being connected in any way to homosexuality.
This did not deter his efforts, instead it emboldened him to keep up the fight for black civil rights until they were fully granted. He refused to allow his sexuality to be used as a catalyst against himself, although he did understand why others were not willing to openly defend him because of it. For Rustin, that was a fight for another decade..
His magnetic personality and tireless work as an openly gay civil rights activist came as a blessing and a curse due to the times. Although Rustin didn’t shift his focus onto the gay rights movement until 1983, he will forever be remembered in history as a proponent of non-violence, tireless advocacy, and for having a fighting spirit that continues to live on through his surviving partner and the numerous advocacy organizations fostered in his name.
Indeed, if you want to know whether today people believe in democracy if you want to know whether they are true democrats, if you want to know whether they are human rights activists, the question to ask is, ‘What about gay people’? Because that is now the litmus paper by which this democracy is to be judged. The barometer for social change is measured by selecting the group that is most mistreated. To determine where society is with respect to change, one does not ask, ‘What do you think about the education of children’? Nor does one ask, ‘Do you believe the aged should have Social Security’. The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people. – Bayard Rustin