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Lawmakers Call for Pardon of Civil Rights Leader

Published on Wednesday, January 22, 2020 | 6:44 am
 

Bayard Rustin was arrested in Pasadena in 1953

State lawmakers are calling for the posthumous pardon of a gay activist and confidante of Martin Luther King Jr. arrested in Pasadena in 1953.

Police arrested Bayard Rustin after he was discovered having sex with two men in a parked car — just hours after giving a speech while visiting Pasadena.

Prosecutors charged Rustin with vagrancy after he served 50 days in the L.A. County jail, a common charge levied against LGBTQ people at the time. He was forced to register as a sex offender. He died in 1987.

“Gov. Newsom pardoning Bayard Rustin will send a profound and powerful message that California is moving away from our ugly past in terms of how we treat LGBTQ people,” said Sen. Scott Wiener, chair of the state senate’s LGBTQ caucus, in a recent interview.

Wiener and Assemblymember Shirley Weber, chair of the Senate Black Caucus asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to pardon Rustin on the Martin Luther King holiday, which celebrates the birth of the slain civil rights leader.

One of the key organizers of the 1963 March on Washington, Rustin played a key role in the Civil Rights movement. He was jailed and brutally beaten for refusing to give up his seat on a bus.

The results of Rustin’s Pasadena arrest and conviction were painful and swift. He was removed him from the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith peace organization.

South Carolina Senator Storm Thurmond read Rustin’s entire arrest file into the Congressional record in an effort to discredit the Civil Rights Movement. As a result, several civil rights leaders distanced themselves from Rustin publicly.

“I think this is a pretty clear cut case of severe injustice,” Sen. Wiener says. “Bayard Rustin did not hurt anyone. He was simply criminalized, like countless other gay men have been criminalized, for having sex. Countless LGBTQ people have been criminalized in general. The history of the LGBTQ community has been a history of criminalization. It’s society’s efforts to eliminate us.”

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