Everybody knows about Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. but not everyone knows Bayard Rustin, a civil rights leader who mostly worked in the shadows because he was an out and proud gay man. Nonetheless, he was bold, fearless and unapologetic, which is why we are honoring him for the 12 Days of Pride.
Rustin was the chief architect of the historic 1963 March on Washington, but got none of the glory and barely made it into the history books. He was Dr. King’s righthand man and was advocate for labor rights, teacher’s rights and social democracy.
In one of his last speeches in 1986, Rustin testified on behalf of New York State’s Gay Rights Bill, saying, “Blacks are in every segment of society and there are laws that help to protect them from racial discrimination. The new ‘niggers’ are gays…. It is in this sense that gay people are the new barometer for social change…. The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people.”
A year later, Rustin passed away at 75 years old.
In 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Only today is he receiving the credit he deserves. He was a disrupter, a unifier and a patriot.
Watch Shangela’s 12 Days of Pride tribue to Bayard Rustin, above.