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Queer Person in History: Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin was an out gay man of color during some of the most dangerous times to be either, and both, in contemporary American History. He was born in 1912 in West Chester, PA and was raised by a single mother. His Quaker upbringing had a profound influence on him, being cited as the reason he was a devoted pacificist. He was also an educated man of color, having attended 3 institutions of higher learning: Wilberforce University, Cheney State Teachers College, and City College in NYC. While living in NYC, he made a living as a spiritual singer in nightclubs. What makes Mr. Rustin a remarkable man is how he contributed to civil and human rights as an activist. In the 1940s, Bayard Rustin worked with A. Philip Randolph to protest segregation in the Armed Forces and domestic defense industry. He traveled around the country giving talks about these issues during a time when racial discrimination permeated even interstate travel policy. He also served as advisor and mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unfortunately, because of his open out lifestyle, Mr. Rustin was a prominent force behind the scenes of the Civil Rights movements of the 1950s & 60s. We must remember that this was before Stonewall. This was a time when being Out was literally a crime by just existing. Police were still raiding Queer spaces and arresting men for simply dancing with other men or dressing too feminine. Add in the racial injustices that Mr. Rustin must’ve faced during this time, it is truly astounding that he had enough fight left in him to devote his life’s work to political causes and be apart of the some of the most notable times in 20th Century Politics. And he didn’t stop there! During the 1970s and 80s, Mr. Rustin turned his focus from the dwindling Civil Rights era to fighting for human rights. He would testify on behalf of NYS’ Gay Rights Bill, a bill introduced in 1971 to add sexual orientation to the list of protected categories for the state, before passing away in 1987 at the age of 75.

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