The Sexual Continuum

Discussing all things related to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) health

Bayard Rustin: A Forgotten Civil Rights Hero

A gay man and leader in the civil rights movement

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day that celebrates the life and legacy of a man who advanced hope and justice in America. Last year I blogged about the legacy of his wife, Coretta Scott King who was a champion for LGBT equality.   She famously said, "Gays and lesbians stood up for civil rights in Montgomery, Selma, in Albany, Ga. and St. Augustine, Fla., and many other campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement. Many of these courageous men and women were fighting for my freedom at a time when they could find few voices for their own, and I salute their contributions." This year I want to share the story of Bayard Rustin, a gay man who was a key leader in the civil rights movement. 

According to the Chicago History Museum, Bayard Rustin (1912-87) was instrumental in bringing Gandhi's protest techniques from India to America in the 1940s, a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr., and an organizer of the seminal 1963 March on Washington. Despite his achievements, Rustin was expunged from history—largely because he dared to be an openly gay man during a fiercely homophobic era.  

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In the 1980s, Bayard Rustin testified on behalf of the New York State's Gay Rights Bill in which he asserted that "gay people are the new barometer for social change."   Below is an excerpt of a video that tells some of the story of his life.  I hope on this MLK day that the words of Coretta Scott King will inspire action, ""I believe all Americans who believe in freedom, tolerance and human rights have a responsibility to oppose bigotry and prejudice based on sexual orientation."

Dr. Mustanski is the Director of the IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program. You can follow the Sexual Continuum blog by becoming a fan on Facebook.  I periodically live tweet from research conferences on sexuality and you can follow me @sexualcontinuum.


Brian Mustanski, Ph.D., is Associate Professor at Northwestern University and the founding Director of the IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program.


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