A 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.