Bayard Rustin was the chief architect for the March On Washington that took place August 28, 1963, during the Civil Rights Movement.
Ten years before that in 1953, Rustin was arrested in Pasadena, California when on tour lecturing about anti-colonial struggles in West Africa. While in Pasadena, he decided to do what many singles do when in a new city and that is hook up with with a stranger. Police caught Rustin in a parked car with another man and was charged with vagrancy and lewd conduct. He pleaded guilty to a lower charge of sex perversion and served 60 days in jail.
Over sixty five years later California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order to identify eligible individuals for pardons in the state. The LGBTQ and black caucuses of the California Legislature asked the Democratic governor to pardon Rustin.
Newsom stated, “Countless others in California, as well as around the country, have experienced similar unequal application of the law because of stigma, bias and ignorance… his conviction is part of a long and reprehensible history of a criminal prohibitions on the very existence of LGBTQ people and their intimate associations and relationships.”
Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco stated, “Generations of LGBT people — including countless gay men — were branded criminals and sex offenders simply because they had consensual sex. This was often life-ruining, and many languished on the sex offender registry for decades.”
The backlash to Rustin was swift. He was stripped of his leadership post at the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), a pacifist organization involved in the Civil Rights Movement, after U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina read Rustin’s arrest file into the Congressional Record.
In 2013 President Barack Obama posthumously honored Rustin with a Presidential Medal of Freedom. This new pardon honors Rustin by acknowledging his sexuality is not illegal.
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