Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cathy Young ― What Tributes to Bayard Rustin Leave Out


When Bayard Rustin, the often-unsung hero of the civil rights movement, died in 1987, obituaries either evaded the fact that he was openly gay or danced around it—like the New York Times, which mentioned Rustin’s homosexuality but described longtime partner Walter Naegle as his “administrative assistant and adopted son.” Today, such obfuscation looks both laughable and sad. As the nation marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, media tributes that credit Rustin’s role in that event have often focused on his identity as a black civil rights leader who was also a gay man. Yet in an ironic twist, many of these commemorations have been just as evasive, if not outright dishonest, about another key aspect of Rustin’s life: the fact that in his post-1963 career, he held many views that were anathema to the left, then and now.
The standard media narrative on Rustin is that he was sidelined in the civil rights movement and nearly erased from its history due to homophobia. But this is not entirely accurate—especially not the second part.