So said historian John D’Emilio about Bayard Rustin. If you’re not familiar with the name, that’s no accident. As an openly gay black man, he was not exactly on everyone’s hit parade in the early days of the civil rights movement. Bayard Rustin was the architect of the 1963 March on Washington. Yes the one we just commemorated the 50th anniversary of over the weekend.
The first time I heard about him was about 10, maybe 15 years ago. It never actually occurred to me what kind of person it would take to organize the largest non-violent march Washington and the world had ever seen. Leave it to the gay man to pull together such a momentous occasion.
This Wednesday, August 28, PBS will air (check your local listing) the award-winning documentary “Brother Outsider” (www.rustin.org). It is the story of the trials, triumphs and tragedies in the life of Bayard Rustin. It will help explain why President Obama just announced he will be posthumously awarding Bayard Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian award.
Born a Quaker and follower of Gandhi, his gay-ness isn’t the only thing that made him queer. And I’m sure, in a room filled with anger, frustration and heterosexual men, a gentle soul was exactly what was needed during such a volatile time.
If it weren’t for people like Bayard Rustin, The Lesbian Socialite could not even exist. So, today this brown, queer girl says THANK YOU for paving the way for me.