Tag Archives: Bayard Rustin

June 11, 1999 (a Friday)

The Flag of Gay Pride

On this date, William Jefferson Clinton became the first president to announce June as a national “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.” Of course, there have always been those who ask why there should be a gay pride month — after all, heterosexuals don’t “celebrate” being straight. There are actually several good, interrelated reasons.

The psychological answer: “To expose heterosexism!” This was explained by psychotherapist Joe Kort:

Why [have LGBT pride month]?  The same reason we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day March and Black History month in February — to celebrate one’s identity and acknowledge that we exist.

Currently people still assume that everyone is heterosexual until proven otherwise. They ask males if they have wives and girlfriends and females if they have boyfriends and husbands. Lesbians are assumed heterosexual and asked by doctors if they are using birth control assuming that the woman is sexually active with men.

The next time you see a gay pride event and parade, instead of judging it as overly sexual, over the top flamboyant and/or being in your face about sex, take a moment and remember these people are celebrating their identities. Being gay and lesbian is about a life full of spiritual, emotional, psychological and sexual connection to members of the same gender. Until it is fully acknowledged legally and otherwise and accepted as a legitimate and normal lifestyle for the people who live it, we are going to need gay pride month.

The word pride is used in this case as an antonym for shame, which has been used to control and oppress LGBT persons throughout history. In other words, Gay Pride Parades are necessary to affirm that gay and lesbian people are equal — not inferior or superior — to heterosexuals. This explains why Heterosexual Pride Parades will never be justified, since heterosexuals are viewed, even today, as superior to LGBT people by most of society.

The political answer: “To educate heterosexual people!”

Rustin (center) before a 1964 demonstration. Photo by New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer.

Pride month is also a great time for straight people and straight allies to start learning more about gay culture. Many articles and media events talk about gay culture and GLBT people’s contributions to society during Pride month. For example, did you know that Walt Whitman was gay? So was Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s right hand man and the main organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The social butterfly answer: “To connect with each other!”

We are still in the minority which is why we feel the need to get together and enjoy ourselves. If the world were half gay and half straight, then there would be no need for this, but it isn’t. In addition, it also helps for younger gay people to see all of these people and know they’re not alone.

The historical answer: “To celebrate the advances the LGBT movement has accomplished!”

Before Stonewall, the LGBT community was considered as only a sick community that needed to be cured. We were dehumanized. Many of us were sent to insane asylums for electric shock therapy and in some cases, they would cut out the frontal lobe of our brains. In World War ll, the Germans sent any known homosexual to concentration camps and some of us were used for laboratory experiments. After the war was over, most people in the concentration camps were set free. Not the gay men though — they were sent to prison for loving other men.

First Hong Kong Gay Pride Parade (13 December 2008)

Gay pride events around the world celebrate the progress the LGBT movement has achieved since Stonewall. I’m not proud just for being gay, as this in itself is no achievement, but I am proud of what my community and those before me have done so that now things are better than they used to be. We have representatives in politics, entertainment, sports, science, and academics, and we are allowed to get married or have a civil union in dozens of countries and a number of U.S. states. Yet we still have a ways to go before we truly have equality.

Yet as we gained tangible rights, visibility, and even acceptance the gay pride event has come under attack as a distraction, as an over-commercialized event ripe with images that inevitably our foes use against us. But remember, it’s a parade. It’s supposed to be entertaining. Therefore, we see decorated floats, people in costumes, and a few too many guys dressed as Cher. It may or may not be your cup of tea, but it’s more fun than a parade that consists of people in business clothes who look like accountants.

After all, when was the last time that someone complained that people in Mardi Gras parades aren’t an accurate representation of heterosexuality?

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March 17, 1910 (a Thursday)

Bayard Rustin

On this date, one of the most important leaders of the American civil rights movement from the advent of its modern period in the 1950s until well into the 1980s, Bayard Rustin, was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1955 as Martin Luther King Jr.’s special assistant, serving as the organizational co-ordinator for the SCLC March on Washington in 1963.

Rustin was openly gay and advocated on behalf of gay and lesbian causes in the latter part of his career. Interestingly, a high school named for Bayard Rustin that opened in September 2006 in his home town has posted a bio for him on its website that makes no mention of Walter Nagle – his partner for 10 years – or the fact that Rustin was an openly gay man, or any of his work for gay rights.

A year before his death in 1987, Rustin said:

The barometer of where one is on human rights questions is no longer the black community, it’s the gay community.

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