Happy Martin Luther King, Jr Day, everyone.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the greatest men in history. He was a religious, cultural, and political leader who influenced a nation and helped make the Civil Rights movement successful.
That said, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was still a man of his time (and a religious man of the 60s at that), so he didn’t get it all right.
On this day of celebration for his life and legacy, we want to talk about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's contribution to gay rights.
Note: this article isn't to put him down, but to be realistic about his influence on the LGBTQ community (which this site serves).
In a post we shared last year, we talked to you about a response he had during a Q&A session for a magazine.
Stanford University discovered the transcript to the magazine and within, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr responded to a teenage boy who was struggling with his sexuality.
The boy wrote:
“My problem is different from the ones most people have."
“I am a boy, but I feel about boys the way I ought to feel about girls. I don’t want my parents to know about me. What can I do? Is there any place where I can go for help?”
Dr. King’s response?
“Your problem is not at all an uncommon one. However, it does require careful attention. The type of feeling that you have toward boys is probably not an innate tendency, but something that has been culturally acquired."
“Your reasons for adopting this habit have now been consciously suppressed or unconsciously repressed."
“Therefore, it is necessary to deal with this problem by getting back to some of the experiences and circumstances that lead to the habit."
“In order to do this I would suggest that you see a good psychiatrist who can assist you in bringing to the forefront of conscience all of those experiences and circumstances that lead to the habit."
“You are already on the right road toward a solution, since you honestly recognize the problem and have a desire to solve it.”
Dr. King's response to this kid is nothing short of depressing and disappointing. But, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a religious leader in the 1960s. It was the general consensus at the time to have such thoughts as this.
To give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps this was a political move. Maybe he privately supported LGBTQ rights, but his religious position prevented him from supporting it publicly.
Perhaps, if he had lived past 1968, he would have eventually changed his perspective on the LGBTQ community and publicly supported us.
For instance, his wife did. Coretta Scott King supported gay rights from 1983 till her dying day in 2006.
In addition, two of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most trusted advisors and friends were James Baldwin and Bayard Rustin.
Baldwin is remembered as one of the greatest black writers of America. On top of that, he was also gay. Baldwin's "I Am Not Your Negro" depicts his close relationship with Dr. King and Malcolm X, as well as his own involvement with the Civil Rights Movement.
As for Rustin, he not only advised Dr. King, but he's also noted as being a driving force behind the organization and success of the March on Washington.
And, of course, Bayard Rustin was openly gay. Dr. King repeatedly defended Rustin as his advisor and friend against others who questioned Rustin because of his sexuality.
We have to acknowledge both the good and the bad. Dr. King did share those words to the boy saying homosexuality was a sickness. That is fact and not something we should forget for convenience. That said, he also included two black, gay men in his inner circle.
Despite his negative response to a gay teen looking for guidance, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a visionary leader for equality. His fight for equality in terms of race greatly translates to the fight for equality in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Dr. King's rhetoric towards all men (and women) being treated as equal is being used today in the fight for LGBTQ rights, even if that wasn't his intention at the time.
Overall, Martin Luther King, Jr. was both a man of his time and the man of his time. While he did not openly support LGBTQ rights, his private life and public rhetoric gave way to supporting us years later.
And no matter what, he is missed.
Happy Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, everyone. Instead of fighting (or idolizing him beyond recognition), lets remember the man in all his capacity.
This article has been expanded and elaborated on to include information like Dr. King's friendship with James Baldwin and a clearer definition of the article's message.