Obama Memorializes Martin Luther King Jr’s Gay Strategist Bayard Rustin

377px-bayardrustinaug1963-libraryofcongressA tip of the hat (and also a giant gold medal) to Bayard Rustin and Sally Ride, whom President Obama just honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Hip hip hooray for queers!

Another medal went to Gloria Steinem, who may not be a lesbian but certainly has a few things to say about gender.

It’s an absolute crime that Bayard Rustin’s name doesn’t appear in history books right next to Martin Luther King Jr.’s. He was a key architect of the civil rights movement, without whom we might not have ever had a march on Washington, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, countless MLK speeches, and King’s Quaker-inspired devotion to nonviolence.

In fact, it was Rustin’s intensity that may have been his undoing: when word got out that he and King were planning to protest the Democratic and Republican party conventions, Democratic Representative Adam Clayton Powell threatened to spread a rumor that Rustin and King were romantically linked. King backed down; Rustin resigned. But he still remained heavily involved in the movement.

“So, for decades, this great leader, often at Dr. King’s side, was denied his rightful place in history because he was openly gay,” Obama said today. “No medal can change that, but today, we honor Bayard Rustin’s memory by taking our place in his march towards true equality, no matter who we are or who we love.”

Walter Naegle, Rustin’s longtime partner, accepted the award on his behalf. It’s a huge step towards honoring a man to whom the country owes so much. Now let’s be sure to get his name in every history class in the country, so it’s not just gay history buffs who know that he ever existed.

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  • Dakotahgeo

    No comments yet?! Hmmmm… not too surprised about that. Anything that has to do with education or non-white issues pretty much gets shoved to the wayside. With a History major (US, European, African American, AND Native American ) a person can only touch on so many different facets but my students were required to write five different papers on Ethnic History, none less than 10 pages long… plus reference footnotes. I was adamant that they be aware that there were more races on this earth than Caucasian. I was extremely proud of their efforts and some even turned up winners in District and Regional contests. It does prove that history can be interesting and challenging, and that those goals can be met and exceeded. Kudos to the President for honoring these people today!

  • mlbumiller

    just wait the haters havent seen the post yet. Fawkes will be on bithching again bout Clinton and Jeff4Justice will bitch about Obama.

  • hyhybt

    @Dakotahgeo: there’s not much to say except “well it’s about time.”

  • Teleny

    I think it’s amazing how brave Bayard was living openly during the Jim Crow era. He was a great man and should be an lbgt icon.

  • Kangol


    It’s great you had your students write on history. Let’s not forget, though, that we are all “ethnic” in one way or another, just as we are all human. Ethnic people are not just the brown or black ones, but everyone.

    Bayard Rustin was incredibly brave. He was also arrested and brought up on morals charges by homophobic law enforcement officials. He was a Quaker, a person of the Left, a warrior for freedom, a nonviolent resistor who offers all of us a model for how to deal with oppression. He should be better known, by every American.

  • BrandoPolo

    Bayard needs a movie. Fascinating and complex guy, a gay guy — but not just a gay guy.

  • Tackle

    Bayard Rustin was a decade before Harvey Milk, and was openly gay. And no-doubt, helped Dr King in his support and acceptence of GLBT, people and issues. And the work that Bayard achieve and accomplish was just as important to what Harvey Milk did. Yet it is Harvey Milk who is celebrated as a gay icon. With a movie, a special day and a stamp.

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