California Just Cleared Bayard Rustin Of His Gay Sex Charge

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It’s official. The man behind the March on Washington, who helped organized multiple bus boycotts, and served as a mentor/advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr. has been freed of his sex charge.

Last month, we shared with you the history and achievements of the late Bayard Rustin as well as the campaign to restore his legacy. The Pennsylvania-born citizen was an openly gay black man fighting for civil rights along some of the greatest men of his time. Yet, his legacy is mostly forgotten by the public. Why? Because of one mistake he made while visiting California.

In January of 1953, Rustin was found having sex in a car with two other men by police officers in Pasadena. He was convicted of “lewd vagrancy” and served 50 days in Los Angeles County jail. Unfortunately, the social backlash for the conviction was worse. Rustin had to register as a sex offender under the anti-gay “morals charge.” Rustin was then ostracized by civil rights movement members like Martin Luther King, Jr., who had considered Rustin a mentor and friend up to that point.

“I remember him saying he would be walking around in the streets and checking phone booths for loose change,” said Walter Naegle, a friend-turned-lover of the late Rustin who died in 1987.

Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King, Jr. / Image via Wikimedia Commons

But as we shared last month, California politicians were recently lobbying for Rustin’s charge to finally be dropped. The conversation started after LGBTQ activist Nicole Ramirez was told the arrest record would complicate creating an official postage stamp in Rustin’s image. She then elected the help of State Senator Scott Wiener, who is the chair of California’s legislative LGBTQ caucus, and Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, chair of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus. And now, Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed on for the movement.

According to NBC News, Gov. Newsom announced that he’ll be posthumously pardoning Bayard Rustin for the lewd vagrancy charge.

“In California and across the country, many laws have been used as legal tools of oppression, and to stigmatize and punish LGBTQ people and communities and warn others what harm could await them for living authentically,” Newsom said in a statement. The governor also thanked the politicians and advocates who lobbied “to seek a pardon to right this egregious wrong.”

“Generations of LGBT people — including countless gay men — were branded criminals and sex offenders simply because they had consensual sex,” Wiener said in a statement praising Newsom’s actions. “This was often life-ruining, and many languished on the sex offender registry for decades.”

Meanwhile, Weber applauded the pardon as a righting of a wrong done to a great man in civil rights, gay rights, and equal rights history.

“Rustin was a great American who was both gay and black at a time when the sheer fact of being either or both could land you in jail,” she said in a statement. “This pardon assures his place in history.”

Source: NBC News,

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