Justice, Delayed

Gavin Newsom considers pardoning queer Civil Rights icon Bayard Rustin

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The California LGBTQ and Black Caucuses of the state legislature have just sent a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom requesting a posthumous pardon for Civil Rights leader Bayard Rustin.

Rustin towers over American history as one of the most important leaders of the Civil Rights movement, having worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to help plan King’s March on Washington and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Scandal forced Rustin to part company with King in 1963, as King feared that Rustin’s sexuality could harm the fledgling movement. Rustin had been arrested for sex with a man in a parked car in 1953.

That arrest, and the subsequent tarnish it left on Rustin’s career prompted the LGBTQ and Black Caucuses to take action.

Related: Bayard Rustin: The Gay Dreamer Behind Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” Speech

Gay state Senator Scott Wiener and African American Assemblywoman Shirley Weber penned the letter in hopes of expunging Rutin’s record. “Mr. Rustin lived during a period of time in our nation’s history where his identity was under constant assault,” the pair write. “Racial tensions were at a heightened state, segregation was in full effect, and Jim Crow laws were being enforced in various states throughout the country. This was also a time when homosexuality was criminalized, and LGBTQ people across the country were under a constant threat of violence and targeting.”

“Mr. Rustin’s conviction and registered sex offender status haunted him for the rest of his life,” the letter states, “and it continues to tarnish his name, despite his death 33 years ago. Indeed, California’s treatment of Mr. Rustin tarnishes our entire state.”

Should Newsom take action, he will not be the first government official to embrace Rustin’s memory. President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Honor in 2013 for his contribution to American equality.

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