Saturday, March 17 will mark the 100th birthday of visionary and civil rights leader Bayard Rustin. Rustin, an openly gay African American man, worked for more than 50 years as an advocate and strategist for human rights. He most famously advised Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and was the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where King made his infamous “I Have a Dream” speech. From the media to our history books, Rustin’s contributions are still relatively unknown.
That is why GLAAD was among organizations calling onto journalists to highlight his work as well as that of other African American LGBT trailblazers during Black History Month and beyond. Media outlets and LGBT advocates are beginning to do just that. Today Mandy Carter, a founder of the National Black Justice Coalition, and Sharon Lettman Hicks, the Executive Director of NBJC spoke out, as well as Karen Ocamb of LGBT POV.
America needs to know that Bayard existed. Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and same-gender-loving people need to know that Rustin stood firm in his identity and, by his very presence, challenged others in the Civil Rights Movement to overcome homophobia.
Websites like TheRoot.com, an online destination for news and commentary from an African American perspective, acknowledge Rustin’s role in our history.
In “Recognition Overdue for Bayard Rustin,” The Root’s Edmund Newton notes:
In truth, Rustin, who died in 1987 at age 75, may have been the one essential ingredient in the mix that miraculously gelled in the 1960s to bring down Jim Crow. He was the civil rights movement's master strategist, a visionary with an abiding commitment to nonviolent action who created the blueprint for huge advances in the cause of racial equality.
“Bayard Rustin has deeply enriched our nation and our lives,” said Herndon Graddick, GLAAD’s Vice President of Programs and Communications. “His impact as an out Black gay man during the 1960s at the intersection of the Civil Rights Movement and the gay liberation movement helped lead to the advances in equality that we see today. His courage and dignity inspires all of us.”
GLAAD honors Rustin’s commitment to equality for all people, regardless of their race, gender, class or orientation. His legacy continues as we propel this movement forward.