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Gay History Month: Bayard's Legacy
2006-10-04

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Bayard Rustin.

________

By Jason Villemez

This National Gay Newspaper Guild history month list has one obvious flaw: diversity. The early stages of the gay-rights struggle lacked minority activists for numerous reasons, chief being that people of color were waging an equally important battle for civil rights. And in many cases, the gay community mirrored the social partisanship of the non-gay world until the cultural shift of the 1970s.

But there are notable individuals who have contributed to both gay rights and advancing their own roots. Women in our community have had a long history of leadership, and since our social activities were limited up until the 1970s, the few existing bars and clubs welcomed all individuals regardless of gender. And many of those places were located in Black neighborhoods like Harlem and Chicago's South Side, providing a safe haven from the police where gay men and women could discuss issues and relationships with mild freedom.

One great example is Bayard Rustin. Rustin acted as key advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. in the '60s, educating King on pacifist resistance and co-organizing the Southern Christian Leadership Council ( SCLC ) . He felt compelled to be open about his homosexuality, and informed King that he would resign if it hindered their work. King refused his offer, though the issue was kept quiet and was a feared secret in both the NAACP ( National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ) and the SCLC. Rustin was forced to resign his seat on the SCLC in 1960 to avoid a morals charge in Congress, and was further scrutinized by Strom Thurmond in the Senate, who alleged that Rustin and King were intimately involved. Following King's death, Rustin continued his work as an activist for Freedom House, and promoted ties between the civil-rights movement and the Democratic Party. In 1986, he spoke on behalf on New York State Gay Rights Bill, and urged gay and lesbian outreach towards all minorities in order to promote unity throughout the entire civil rights struggle.

Similar attitudes in the Latino and Asian communities as well as several religions have spurred organizations and cultural groups which cater to previously ignored minorities within the community. And most welcome all individuals regardless of color or creed.

With the support and strength of past and present pioneers and all parts of the gay and lesbian landscape, we have proven that the rainbow that defines our community holds true today, a testament to our unity and our achievement.


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