Gay civil rights leader arrested for having sex with men could finally be pardoned after 67 years

Ama Nunoo Jan 24, 2020 at 08:00am

January 24, 2020 at 08:00 am | News

Ama Nunoo

Ama Nunoo | Staff Writer

January 24, 2020 at 08:00 am | News

Gay civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, who helped plan the 1963 March on Washington, is photographed in his New York office in 1969. Photo: A. Camerano/AP

California lawmakers, on Tuesday, reached out to Governor Gavin Newsom to grant civil rights leader Bayard Rustin a posthumous pardon for his 1953 conviction which they believed targeted gay men at the time.

Rustin was Martin Luther King Jr’s confidante and friend who helped King organize the Washington March. He was arrested and charged of “lewd vagrancy” in 1953 after he was caught by the police having sex with a man in a parked car.

Rustin was not only jailed for 60 days but was also forced to register as a sex offender.

“There’s a cloud hanging over him because of this unfair, discriminatory conviction, a conviction that never should have happened, a conviction that happened only because he was a gay man,” Sen. Scott Wiener (D), chairman of the state’s Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, told The Washington Post.

Wiener’s letter added that “we must acknowledge and make amends for the harm that California’s past actions have had on so many people. Pardoning Mr. Rustin will be a positive step toward reconciliation.”

The arrest tainted Rustin’s reputation and his activism because this forced him out of the pacifist Fellowship for Reconciliation leadership.

In the early 1960s, it majorly sidelined him from his inner circle while rising in the civil rights movement.

From left, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bayard Rustin, leaders of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., leave the Montgomery County Courthouse on Feb. 24, 1956. Photo: Gene Herrick/AP

Championed by Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D), Martin Luther King Jr. was pressurized to freeze Rustin out of his clique because of his sexuality. At a point, he was just tagging along till he was made an organizer of the March on Washington.

According to the Post, the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (D-S.C.) used Rustin’s arrest as grounds to criticize the march on the Senate floor whiles accusing Rustin of “sex perversion.” Nonetheless, movement leaders, including King backed Rustin.

“They really picked the wrong guy,” Walter Naegle, who was Rustin’s partner at the time of his death in 1987, told the Post. “The thing that separated Bayard from many people was he wasn’t going to be silenced.”

“A pardon from the California governor would represent much more than personal vindication for Rustin”, Naegle said.

The latest move would bring to light the injustice and harm done to scores of other members of the LGBTQ community who never received the same level of recognition as Rustin.

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