Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. and the movement he inspired. In August it will be 53 years since his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. He was a beacon of light in the African-American civil rights movement who in his commitment to social justice, he inspired a nation. But where did Dr. King stand on LGBT issues?
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – MLK
There has been much debate over Dr. King’s stance on LGBT. We can only really look to those who knew him for answers. His wife, Coretta Scott King, once spoke at a Lambda Legal event in 2003 on behalf of LGBT rights. In her speech she cited a quote from Dr. King stating, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Mrs. King saw the LGBT movement as a natural extension of Dr. King’s dream.
There was also Bayard Rustin, who in 1956 taught Martin Luther King Jr. the strategies of nonviolence during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It was this moment that launched the civil rights movement. He is considered the founding father of modern black protest. He was also a gay man. In his own words, Rustin chose to leave Dr. King’s organization when he felt his orientation would be a burden to the cause. Even after Rustin left, Dr. King would often call upon him for assistance. He was again called in to organize the infamous march on Washington DC in 1963. Rustin has been on record stating that Dr. King knew what he was and accepted him. But gay rights was not Dr. King’s issue and incorporating them would have been toxic to what they were trying to achieve at the time.
It was not until 1969 and the Stonewall riots did the LGBT movement begin to gain recognition. At that time it truly was LGBT, as both the gay and transgender communities were involved. Before long though the gay movement took the forefront despite the efforts of transgender pioneers like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson who dedicated their lives to keeping the “T” in the movement.
“We will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets … We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out.” – Harvey Milk
In the 70’s we had Harvey Milk and the famous prop 6 vote. He believed that the gay community needed to be in positions of power to make real change. He wanted the gay community to be seen and heard so everyone would know someone who was gay. His goal was to get people to think about who’s rights they were voting away. His “Hope Speech” inspired so many to come out and do just that. Unfortunately the transgender community was the toxic group in his time. The gay community in Dr. King’s time and the transgender community in Harvey Milk’s time. Both were too radical for their perspective era’s.
Though it is easy to say these groups were left out we have to realize how charged race was in Dr. King’s time without throwing anything else in the mix. It was the same thing with the gay movement. The issue was too charged and they felt they would have lost if transgender was in the mix. Both lost their lives fighting for their cause.
So it appears it is our turn. I ask, who shall lead us? I am not sure we have seen that person yet. It certainly will not be someone of privilege. It won’t be a famous Actor or Olympian. Maybe it is just all of us as a group. All I know is it most likely will start from the bottom up. Hopefully we won’t have a fringe group to leave out like those before us.
So when I think of Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream I see it as a gift he gave us. A blueprint on how to achieve equality. His spirit goes beyond his own cause. It extends to the Slyvia Rivera’s, the Marsha P. Johnson’s and Harvey Milk’s of the world. It will continue to extend as long as there is someone who is not accepted as equal. The dream is eternal and forever evolving. So today as we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., let us also think about the legacy of activism and the next wave of it that we are all a part of. We all can dream. Perhaps it is time for all of us to start thinking about coming out, being seen and being heard.
Stay safe and keep fighting for all of us!
Love and Peace,