Bayard Rustin was Gay

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by Akwasi Evans

(NNPA)—Many Black-owned newspapers across the country recently ran a scathing criticism of the NAACP by the National Black Church Initiative. NBCI President Anthony Evans (no relation) said that during the Congressional Black Caucus weekend he “cornered Mr. Jealous,” and told him “the ministers will not stand for the oldest civil rights organization to be used by the gay community to justify their unethical sexual behavior.”

Evans’ letter to NAACP Board Chair Julian Bond warned that there was no way the Black church was going to allow the NAACP or anyone “to utilize these institutions that African Americans have put their lives on the line for to be prostituted for a contribution from the White, gay community.” Evans claims the NAACP “has no business in the issue of marriage.” “Marriage,” said Evans, “is a church matter.” But, in reality marriage is more of a state matter than a church matter. Applicants for marriage must seek a license from the government, not from the church. Couples can marry in the church, but they can also marry in the courthouse or even their parent’s house.

 

Moreover, marriage is more of a human rights issue than a civil rights issue and in spite of their sexual orientation gay people are still human. Consequently, the NAACP has every right as well as a moral obligation to support the rights of gay people to share all the constitutional protections that other citizens share.

I would question whether Pastor Evans or any other NBCI ministers have actually studied the history of marriage in the world since it isn’t recorded in the King James Version of the testaments to which many limit their beliefs. But a quick glance back into the past will reveal that from the 5th to the 14th centuries, the Roman Catholic Church conducted special ceremonies to bless same-sex unions, which were almost identical for those to bless heterosexual unions. And as to the NBCI’s claim that “marriage is a church matter,” records show that “Marriage was strictly a civil and not an ecclesiastical ceremony for the Puritans in Massachusetts Bay until 1686.”

In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state anti-miscegenation laws in Loving v. Virginia. Prior to 1967 the White church was as wrong on miscegenation as the Black church is on gay marriage today. Gay men and women have just as much right to be happy or miserable together as heterosexual couples.

I do not favor gay marriage, I favor gay rights and that includes the right to marry. I do not condone the gay lifestyle and I don’t condemn it either. I respect the humanity of gay people and I expect them to respect mine. Who they commit their lives to and who they sleep beside is their own personal business, not mine and not the NBCI.

The Black church is a viable and important force in the African-American community and their influence is widespread, but the NAACP is the leading institution relating to civil rights and they have more than a right to support homosexual unions—they have an obligation. I applaud Julian Bond, Ben Jealous and the NAACP for courageously standing up to the NBCI and standing by the principles upon which their organization was founded.

Many Americans are of the belief that the Black church spearheaded the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s that led to break through legislation that improved the conditions of life for the majority of Black people in America. The media and historians point to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as the force behind the historic 1963 March on Washington. King did give the keynote address, rousing the nation with his “I Have A Dream” speech, but the national coordinator for the March on Washington was Bayard Rustin. It was Rustin who introduced King to the tactics of Gandhi and Rustin who did the behind the scenes grunt work that made the march successful.

But, Rustin is so little known that a documentary on his life is entitled “Brother Outsider.” The film shows how Rustin was “silenced, threatened, arrested, beaten, imprisoned and fired from important leadership positions, largely because he was an openly gay man in a fiercely homophobic era.

Rustin can rightfully be called the father of the African American civil rights movement and the NCBI has shamed itself in criticizing the NAACP for not caving in to their Christian inquisition. Many Black church leaders argue that it is wrong for people to equate the struggle for gay rights with the struggle for African-American rights and I am in total agreement. Gay rights can better be equated with women’s rights to choose and like women, gays deserve the right to choose their mate and both they and their mate have the right to a sacred monogamous relationship.

(Akwasi Evans is publisher of the NOKOA Newspaper in Austin, Texas.)

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