Arrested for having sex with men, this gay civil rights leader could finally be pardoned in California

Gay civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, who helped plan the 1963 March on Washington, is photographed in his New York office in 1969.

By Samantha Schmidt

A decade before Bayard Rustin became a chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, the civil rights activist was booked into a Los Angeles County jail on suspicion of “lewd vagrancy.”

On that night in January 1953, hours after Rustin had given a speech in Pasadena, Calif., police officers spotted him in a parked car, having sex with one of the other two men in the car. Rustin was sentenced to 60 days in jail and forced to register as a sex offender for the “morals charge,” which was often used to target gay people in those years.

Rustin would ultimately become one of the key leaders of the civil rights movement. He advised the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on nonviolent tactics, helped organize the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott and helped create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. But the arrest remained a stain on his record, nearly exiling him from the movement he helped build.

Now, on the anniversary of his arrest, lawmakers in California are asking Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to posthumously pardon Rustin and “right this wrong.”

“There’s a cloud hanging over him because of this unfair, discriminatory conviction, a conviction that never should have happened, a conviction that happened only because he was a gay man,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, chair of California’s legislative LGBTQ caucus.

In a news conference Tuesday, Wiener joined with Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, chair of the state’s legislative black caucus, to formally ask the governor for the pardon.

While the state has repealed many of the discriminatory laws that targeted black and LGBTQ people such as Rustin, Wiener wrote in a letter to the governor, “we must acknowledge and make amends for the harm that California’s past actions have had on so many people. Pardoning Mr. Rustin will be a positive step toward reconciliation.”

In response, Newsom released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying he “will be closely considering their request and the corresponding case.”

“History is clear. In California and across the country, sodomy laws were used as legal tools of oppression,” Newsom said in the statement. “They were used to stigmatize and punish LGBTQ individuals and communities and warn others what harm could await them for living authentically. I thank those who are advocating for Mr. Bayard Rustin’s pardon.”

Wiener came up with the idea over a breakfast with longtime LGBTQ activist Nicole Ramirez, who has spent years seeking a postage stamp dedicated to Rustin. Ramirez said he has heard concerns from some officials that Rustin’s arrest record could get in the way of the stamp approval process.

The stamp, Ramirez said, would help honor a leader who paid a steep price for living authentically as a gay man at a time when he could be arrested, fired and even hospitalized for his sexuality.

“For him to come and speak out and be openly gay, can you imagine that?” Ramirez said. “He was subjecting himself to more than that arrest but to commitment to a state hospital.”

Ramirez met Rustin briefly during a march in Washington in 1987, shortly before Rustin’s death. But at the time, Ramirez didn’t know who Rustin was, he said.

For decades, Rustin has been overlooked as a key strategist of the civil rights movement, historians say.

“Early on, he wasn’t so well known because the civil rights leaders tried to keep him in the shadows … they were fearful of being tainted by Bayard’s gay sexuality,” said Michael Long, who wrote a young-adult book about Rustin and edited a collection of letters by the civil rights leader.

From left, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bayard Rustin, leaders of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., leave the Montgomery County Courthouse on Feb. 24, 1956.

After his arrest in California in 1953, Rustin’s career nearly derailed. He was forced to cancel all upcoming speaking engagements and resign from his position with a pacifist organization, the Fellowship for Reconciliation, Long said. He struggled to find work, and even began doing manual labor as a furniture mover, said Walter Naegle, Rustin’s partner for the last decade of his life.

Naegle described the fallout from his arrest as a “very dark period.”

“I remember him saying he would be walking around in the streets and checking phone booths for loose change,” said Naegle, now 70.

Rustin had been arrested before, for nonviolent protests that included refusing to leave white areas of local movie theaters and restaurants. But it was this arrest that was used to humiliate him and tarnish his reputation. While Rustin never hid his sexuality, he was deeply aware of the way it could affect his work.

In a letter written in March 1953, about three months after his arrest, Rustin wrote: “I know now that for me sex must be sublimated if I am to live with myself and in this world longer.”

Rustin eventually landed a role with the War Resisters League, launching him back into the civil rights movement, Long said. But his sexuality continued to threaten to sideline him. In 1960, after threats from powerful Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (N.Y.), King pushed Rustin out of his inner circle, and Rustin resigned from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

But then, in 1963, as leaders planned the March on Washington, Rustin’s longtime mentor, A. Philip Randolph, appointed him as a key organizer of the gathering. Rustin was tasked with steering the logistics of the massive event, coordinating between civil rights groups and recruiting off-duty law enforcement personnel to serve as marshals.

As the march approached, Sen. Strom Thurmond (S.C.) attacked “Mr. March-on-Washington himself” on the Senate floor, dredging up Rustin’s arrest record from Pasadena.

“The words ‘morals charge’ are true. But this again is a clear-cut case of toning down the charge,” Thurmond said on the Senate floor. “The conviction was sex perversion and a subsequent arrest of vagrancy and lewdness.”

At a news conference in 1963, Bayard Rustin points to a map showing the path of the March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

But this time, the organizers of the march — including King — stood by Rustin. And even as his sexuality was repeatedly used against him, Rustin never shied away from it, Naegle said.

“They really picked the wrong guy,” Naegle said. “The thing that separated Bayard from many people was he wasn’t going to be silenced.”

In a recently released interview with the Washington Blade, Rustin said: “It was an absolute necessity for me to declare homosexuality because if I didn’t I was a part of the prejudice. I was aiding and abetting … the prejudice that was a part of the effort to destroy me.” He couldn’t be a “free whole person,” he said, living in the closet.

The week after the March on Washington, the cover of Life magazine featured not a photo of King, but of Randolph and Rustin, standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

More than two decades later, upon his death in 1987, Rustin’s obituary was featured on the front page of the New York Times, identifying him as a civil rights activist and chief organizer of the March on Washington.

But it barely mentioned his identity as a gay man. In the obituary, Naegle was referred to not as Rustin’s partner but as his “administrative assistant and adopted son.”

It wasn’t until recent years that Rustin began to receive recognition not only as a major civil rights leader but as a rare example of an openly gay leader at the time.

Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, Naegle traveled across the country organizing programs dedicated to spreading the word of Rustin’s legacy. And in 2013, Obama posthumously honored Rustin with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, noting his role as an openly gay African American who “stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.”

A pardon from the California governor would represent much more than personal vindication for Rustin, Naegle said. It would recognize the injustice and damage done to scores of other members of the LGBTQ community who never received the same level of recognition as Rustin.

“He survived, he thrived, he did fine, but there were a lot of people that didn’t,” Naegle said.

To Long, a pardon would be “an affirmation of what Rustin knew all along: that he was not a criminal for being gay.”

Complete Article HERE!

I Quit the Priesthood

Len Schreiner couldn’t help falling in love. So he wrote a letter to Pope John Paul II and waited.

by Danya Issawi

I grew up in a very Roman Catholic atmosphere in western Kansas and had always been drawn to the priesthood.

I joined the Capuchin religious order in 1976, and I was ordained in 1978 at age 28. Almost immediately, the underlying tension I had felt about intimate relationships really came to the fore. I struggled greatly.

I was in various flirtations with women, or little romantic relationships, but that’s a normal part of life. The Roman Catholic priesthood, though, with its mandatory celibacy, discourages any close contact with women.

I would look at my brothers and sister and the families they raised, and I couldn’t accept the notion that I was making a greater sacrifice than they were in their jobs and raising children.

I went on a leave of absence from the priesthood in 1989 and started dispensation two years later, which means I had to write up a paper to John Paul II in Rome to explain why I wasn’t able to continue. I wrote that there were two things that prompted my leaving: that I wanted to be more involved in social justice and peace work, and that I felt I could not successfully live a celibate life.

I sought dispensation both for my own peace of my mind and for my family. I knew it would soften the blow for my parents — it was a heartbreak for them.

A lot of priests did not get dispensations. Their applications would be in a pile someplace for years. One priest said to me, “They haven’t gotten back to me in 11 years.”

In my case, by the grace of God, I received a letter and document in January of 1992 granting me “a dispensation from the obligations of priestly ordination, including celibacy, and from religious vows.”

Then I was considered, in the eyes of the church, a lay person. I was free, and in June of that same year, I got married in a Catholic church in Seattle.

I knew my wife for seven years before we got married. I had met her when I was still a pastor of a church in Denver. She had been in a religious order of nuns, but had left three years prior to our meeting.

We became friends, and by the time I left the Roman Catholic priesthood in 1989 we were in a relationship. We weren’t married until 1992, and part of that was just my slowness to mature. I had to work through a lot.

The transition was huge. I had gone to a high school seminary and a college seminary, where it’s a celibate atmosphere and an all-male atmosphere, and both psychologically and on a sexual level, I was quite immature. The first 10 years of my relationship with my wife, Nancy, were about learning how to be in a romantic relationship, and it was a long learning curve.

By the grace of God we have been married now for 26 years. You have to learn how to be a “we” rather than a “me” — the celibate priesthood is kind of honing you to be individualistic, yet also an overly generous servant of the church.

When you leave, you have very little financially. I worked in lots of labor jobs. I was a furniture laborer. I worked day jobs for $5 an hour. I dug ditches. I unloaded trucks. During what I call the 14-year hiatus, I wanted to get back to ministry as a priest, but there wasn’t an avenue to do that in the Roman Catholic church.

It wasn’t until 2004 when I found the Ecumenical Catholic Communion that I could be a priest again.

We are one of the expressions of independent Catholicism, which are churches that follow the practices, the beliefs and the teachings of the Catholic church but are not under Rome, not under the pope. The pope is not our superior. I’m still functioning as a priest because I was accepted by the founding bishop of this Ecumenical Catholic Communion.

There’s another way of being Catholic. There’s another way of being to be complete. That’s what all transitions are about. I’ve taken everything that I learned in my life as a Capuchin and as a Roman Catholic priest.

It’s with me all the time, but I have gone beyond the limitations of that to a much more extensive consciousness.

Complete Article HERE!

Defence minister apologises for Catholic priests who outed gay and lesbian soldiers

Johnny Mercer, Minister for Defence, People and Veterans, has now apologised for what happened

By Jimmy Nsubuga

A defence minister has said sorry after it emerged Catholic priests in the army broke the trust of gay personnel by outing them to bosses in the 1990s.

The chaplains broke confidentiality of confession when they revealed private conversations they had with vulnerable people, campaigners said.

The army personnel could have been fired and humiliated as a result of the breach of trust, they added.

Johnny Mercer, Minister for Defence, People and Veterans, has now apologised for what happened, the Times reported.

He said: ‘Our policy regarding LGB members in the military was unacceptable then, and as a defence minister, I personally apologise for those experiences.’

‘Pastoral encounters between service chaplains and personnel should be strictly confidential.’

Church of England chaplains working in the army were also accused of breaking confidences during the 90s.

On Thursday, Mr Mercer also apologised to a group of veterans for the harm caused by a ban on homosexuality.

The ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people serving in the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force was repealed on January 12, 2000.

People suspected of being LGB in the armed forces at the time were subject to a dishonourable discharge.

A damning judgment by the European Court of Human Rights in September 1999 said the policy was a ‘grave interference’ in people’s private lives.

Mr Mercer added: ‘It was unacceptable then and it is unacceptable now, and as the minister for defence, people and veterans, I wanted to personally apologise to you today for those experiences.’

Gay and lesbian veterans who served under a ban on homosexuality have reflected on their experiences on the 20th anniversary of the policy’s end.

Emma Riley, 47, from West Sussex, served from 1990 to 1993 as a naval radio operator but was arrested and discharged for being a lesbian.

Ms Riley, who is a lesbian, said: ‘I thought the person I told was my friend and at the time I told them seemed to be very supportive and OK with it and the next morning I got woken up at 6am and told to “get up, get dressed and go downstairs, you’re under arrest”.’

Ms Riley had been reported to the Navy’s special investigation branch and had her belongings searched and confiscated, including a video of Julian Clary.

She was subjected to a two and a half month “relentless” investigation where officers tried to find other LGB people in the Navy.

Ms Riley was one of the handful of LGB ex-service people who brought her case against the Ministry of Defence to the European Court of Human Rights.

The MoD now has an LGBTQ+ group within its rank to support service personnel and the Royal British Legion boasts its own LGBTQ+ & Allies branch, which celebrates its first anniversary on Sunday.

Complete Article HERE!